New evidence submitted to a London court suggests that Royal Dutch Shell downplayed the size of two pipeline spills in Nigeria and that the company ignored reports that the pipelines were faulty before the 2008 incidents.

Internal reports and communications submitted to a London court earlier this week show that senior Shell employees were worried that pipelines in the Bodo region of southern Nigeria were at risk for failures before the spills.

Shell claims the spills were caused by thieves breaking into the 180,000 barrel per day arm of the Shell operated Trans Niger Pipeline.

A joint investigation conducted by Shell Nigeria in partnership with Bodo and government agencies concluded that about 4,000 barrels of oil were spilled during the incidents.

Amnesty International now claims that the spill may have been as large as 100,000 barrels within a 35 square mile area after performing its own investigation into the matter.

The agency also alleges that Shell knew the pipelines were at risk for rupture but failed to act.

Shell said Wednesday that it accepts that size of the spill “is likely to have acceded Joint Investigation Visit estimates.”

However, the company maintains that it did not knowingly continue to use a pipeline that was unsafe.

Court documents seen by the BBC include a letter sent by Shell Nigeria’s managing director Basil Omiyi two years before the spill to the governor of Rivers State in southern Nigeria expressing concern over the state of the pipelines.

“There is a risk and likelihood of rupture on this pipeline at any time, which if it happens, could have serious consequences for the safety of life, the environment and the nation’s economy,” Omiyi wrote.

Shell told the BBC that it “dismisses the suggestion that it has knowingly continued to use a pipeline that is not safe to operate.”

Shell is currently being sued by about 15,000 farmers and community members who claim that the two spills permanently damaged their livelihoods.

In June Shell won a ruling that limits the scope of the damage assessments to actual damages caused by the accidents.


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