Why Shell’s Improved Oil Spill Response Is Great News For The Niger Delta


By Daniel Fayemi

For over four decades now, advocacy groups such as Amnesty International and environmental activists have raised genuine concerns over the severe impacts of oil pollution in Nigeria.

The Niger Delta region of the country has particularly borne the brunt of environmental damage, with the Ogoni and Ijaw communities on record as the worst hit.

According to a 2009 Amnesty International report, “pollution and environmental damage caused by the oil industry in the Niger Delta have resulted in violations of the rights to health and a healthy environment, the right to an adequate standard of living (including the right to food and water) and the right to gain a living through work for hundreds of thousands of people.”

In 2010, the Nigerian National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) reported that 3203 oil spills have been recorded in the Niger Delta region in the last four years with Shell stating that the average number of oil spills from its own facilities in the Niger Delta from 2005 to 2009 was 175 per year.

But according to the SPDC sustainability Report 2018, Shell funded the Nigerian government led body, ‘Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project (HYPREP)’ to the tune of 180 million dollars as its first year contribution in partial fulfilment of its 900 million dollars commitment to clean up Ogoniland.

However, in the region generally, following an improvement in Shell’s production facilities, the company recorded 15 operational spills in that year with 111 sabotage-related spills reported. This indicated that more than 90 percent of spills over 100 kilogrammes were as a result of theft and sabotage.

Similarly, in its latest annual review, published in the Nigerian Briefing Notes, the SPDC JV reports that in 2019, the company reduced operational spills to their lowest levels significantly while also succeeding in reducing breaches from wellheads and cleaned up more spill sites than ever before.

The energy company cut down its operational spills in 2019 to only seven, from 15 such spills in 2018, representing a 46.6 percent decrease. However, as in previous years, theft and sabotage remained on the high side with a total of 156 spills recorded a significant increase from the 109 recorded in 2018.

The more encouraging news however, is that more than ever, the SPDC JV was able to swiftly remediate most of the leaks it recorded in 2019 with 130 sites being cleaned up.

According to the report, “SPDC-JV has researched and adopted techniques for cleaning up and remediating oil spills that it believes to be the most effective for the soil and climate conditions of the Niger Delta.  These practices are compliant with the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria (EGASPIN, 2018), which establishes the framework for the management and remediation of Oil spills.

“The SPDC JV is working to eliminate spills from its operational activities, remediate past spills and prevent spills caused by crude oil theft, sabotage of pipelines or illegal oil refining. While SPDC operates to the same technical standards as other Shell companies globally, illegal activities continue to inhibit a normal operating environment.

“Past spills from operational and illegal activities have been well documented, resulting in a clean-up programme and, where appropriate, compensation.”

With more help from their host communities and the federal government more importantly, the activities of pipeline saboteurs have to be significantly curtailed in order for the company to achieve its target of ‘Goal Zero’in all spills whether operational or third-party vandalism.’

Expanding on the company’s strategy to achieve this goal, the SPDC JV cited its active partnerships, closer community engagements, bold security and new surveillance equipment, the company is steadily making good progress. “This progress are in the following areas: Improving performance, Preventing illegal activity, Response and investigation, Improving remediation and continuing its clean-up efforts in Ogoniland.

“Shell has a global ambition to achieve no harm and no leaks across all its operations. This is known as Goal Zero. The SPDC JV is focused on implementing its ongoing work programme to appraise, maintain and replace key sections of pipelines and flow lines. In 2019, SPDC completed another 30 kilometres of new pipelines, bringing the total laid over the last eight years to around 1,330 kilometres. Community engagement and the ongoing commitment from government agencies has also helped shorten response times to incidents. SPDC’s average time to complete the clean-up of free and/or residual spilled oil has halved from 13 days in 2016 to seven days in 2019. Closer engagement with communities has helped SPDC to access spill locations more quickly, meaning on average that joint investigations now commence within three days in 2019 compared to six days in 2016. However, the challenge of preventing spills relating to sabotage and theft by third parties remains. These illegal activities accounted for 95% of the SPDC JV spill incidents in 2019, a similar proportion to previous years,” the company reports.

The SPDC explains that the company does was able to record as much success in cleaning up oil spills in the Niger Delta in 2019 because they do not determine their response and remediation by the cause as 130 sites of both operational and sabotage-related spills all remediated.

It said in its report, “Regardless of the cause, SPDC cleans up and remediates areas impacted by spills that come from its operations. In the case of operational spills, SPDC also pays compensation to communities impacted by the spill. Once the clean-up and remediation are completed, the work is inspected and, if satisfactory, approved and certified by Nigerian government regulators. “SPDC works with a range of stakeholders in the Niger Delta to build greater trust in spill response and clean-up processes. Local communities take part in the remediation work for operational spills. In certain instances, some non-governmental organisations have also participated in joint investigation visits along with government regulators, SPDC and members of impacted communities to establish the cause and volume of oil spilled.

“SPDC has also worked with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2012 to enhance remediation techniques and protect biodiversity at sites affected by oil spills in SPDC’s areas of operation in the Niger Delta. This work includes using bioremediation, a process that uses micro-organisms to naturally break down and, ultimately, remove oil contamination. In 2019, SPDC and IUCN joined forces on the Niger Delta Biodiversity Technical Advisory Group, which also includes representatives from the Nigerian Conservation Foundation and Wetlands International. The groups will continue to work together to monitor biodiversity recovery of remediated sites. Four sites have been assessed and selected as pilot sites for monitoring. These sites represent three ecosystems in the Niger Delta: land, seasonal swamp and swamp.The Niger Delta Panel, an independent scientific advisor, has also provided input on oil spill response and remediation of soil and groundwater contamination. Based on this, SPDC strengthened its approach in this area.”

The company in its report suggested that its huge investments in curbing the activities of illegal oil bunkers is expected to start yielding better results due to its works with government agencies, non-governmental organisations and communities to proactively minimise spills from illegal activity by

“Using simplified zonal pipeline maps to enhance targeted response to third-party interference and prevent incidents from occurring. Since 2017, SPDC has also been able to remove more than 523 illegal theft points. Illegal theft points are identified by daily inspections from the air and on the ground.

“The company has also implemented anti-theft protection mechanisms, such as anti-tamper locks and steel cages for wellheads. Around 301 cages have been installed so far and around 80 more are planned for 2020 that will all come with CCTV technology. In 2019, three breaches of the cages were recorded out of 300 attempts. As a result, wellhead-related losses significantly dropped from about 30 kb/d in 2016 to less than 1 kb/d in 2019 across all SPDC operations.

SPDC has also implemented several initiatives and partnerships to raise awareness of the negative impact of crude oil theft and illegal oil refining. Examples include community-based pipeline surveillance, radio jingles and the promotion of alternative livelihoods through Shell’s youth entrepreneurship programme, Shell LiveWIRE.”

On Ogoni, the SPDC also shared a positive report, intimating that it has been able to intensify works with the relevant stakeholders to implement the 2011 United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Report on Ogoniland.

It said, “Over the last eight years, SPDC has taken action on all, and completed most, of the UNEP recommendations addressed specifically to it as operator of the joint venture. The UNEP report recommended the creation of an Ogoni Trust Fund with $1 billion capital to be co-funded by the Nigerian government, the SPDC JV and other operators in the area.

“The SPDC JV remains fully committed to contributing its share of $900 million over five ears to the fund and In 2018, the SPDC JV paid a total of $180 million to complete its first-year contribution. The SPDC JV in 2019 contributed the next tranche of $180 million. At the end of 2019, the total contribution made was $360 million which represents the full amount due for the two years.”


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