Aug 12, 2011 (110812)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"Shell faces a bill of hundreds of millions of dollars
after accepting full liability for two massive oil spills
that devastated a Nigerian community of 69,000 people and
may take at least 20 years to clean up. Experts who studied
video footage of the spills at Bodo in Ogoniland say they
could together be as large as the 1989 Exxon Valdez
disaster in Alaska, when 10m gallons of oil destroyed the
remote coastline." - Guardian
The news on this admission in a class action suit in London
came on August 3, the day before release of the
comprehensive UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) report on
pollution in Ogoniland. The 1998 Bodo spills, as large as
they are, are only a fraction of the pervasive pollution of
both land and groundwater documented by the study.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the article on the Bodo
spills by John Vidal, environment correspondent of the
Guardian, a background fact sheet on the UNEP report and
oil pollution in Ogoniland from Friends of the Earth
Netherlands, and excerpts from the executive summary of
the UNEP report. Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out by
e-mail today and available on the web at
the press release on the report from UNEP, and an
informative commentary on its significance by Deirdre
LaPin, published in AllAfrica.com.
Oil giant faces a bill of hundreds of millions of dollars
following class action suit brought on behalf of
communities in Bodo, Ogoniland
Shell faces a bill of hundreds of millions of dollars after
accepting full liability for two massive oil spills that
devastated a Nigerian community of 69,000 people and may
take at least 20 years to clean up.
Experts who studied video footage of the spills at Bodo in
Ogoniland say they could together be as large as the 1989
Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, when 10m gallons of oil
destroyed the remote coastline.
Until now, Shell has claimed that less than 40,000 gallons
were spilt in Nigeria.
Papers seen by the Guardian show that following a class
action suit in London over the past four months, the
company has accepted responsibility for the 2008 double
rupture of the Bodo-Bonny trans-Niger pipeline that pumps
120,000 barrels of oil a day though the community.
Ogoniland is a small region of the Niger delta which threw
out Shell in 1994 for its pollution but then saw eight of
its leaders, including the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, executed
by the government.
The crude oil that gushed unchecked from the two Bodo
spills, which occurred within months of each other, in 2008
has clearly devastated the 20 sq km network of creeks and
inlets on which Bodo and as many as 30 other smaller
settlements depend for food, water and fuel.
No attempt has been made to clean up the oil, which has
collected on the creek sides, washes in and out on the
tides and has seeped deep into the water table and
According to the communities in Bodo, in two years the
company has only offered 3,500 British pounds together with
50 bags of rice, 50 bags of beans and a few cartons of
sugar, tomatoes and groundnut oil. The offers were rejected
as "insulting, provocative and beggarly" by the chiefs of
Bodo, but later accepted on legal advice.
Shell's acceptance of full liability for the spills follows
a class action suit bought on behalf of communities by
London law firm Leigh Day and Co, which represented the
Ivory Coast community that suffered health damage following
the dumping of toxic waste by a ship leased to
multinational oil company Trafigura in 2006.
Many other impoverished communities in the delta are now
expected to seek damages for oil pollution against Shell in
the British courts. On average, there are three oil spills
a day by Shell and other companies working in the delta.
Shell consistently blames the spills on local youths who,
they argue, sabotage their network of pipelines.
"The news that Shell has accepted liability in Britain will
be greeted with joy in the delta. The British courts may
now be inundated with legitimate complaints," said Patrick
Naagbartonm, coordinator for the Centre of Environment and
Human Rights in Port Harcourt.
Later this week the company will be heavily implicated by
the UN for the environmental disaster in the Niger delta
which has seen more than 7,000 oil spills in the low lying
swamps and farmland since 1989. Shell first discovered oil
in the Niger delta in 1956. According to Amnesty
International, more than 13m barrels of oil have been spilt
in the delta, twice as much as by BP in last year's Gulf of
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report, funded by
Shell, will be presented to president Goodluck Jonathan on
Thursday and is expected to be released on Friday in
UNEP's report, the first peer-reviewed scientific study of
more than 60 spills, is expected to say that oil pollution
in Ogoniland is much worse than previously believed, having
sunk deep into the water table. Many spills have not been
cleared up since 1970 and the effects on the local economy,
health and development have been severe. The report will
not apportion blame for individual spills.
International oil spill assessment experts who have seen
the Bodo spill believe that it could cost the company more
than $100m to clean up properly and restore the devastated
mangrove forests that used to line the creeks and rivers
but which have been killed by the oil.
Proceedings against Royal Dutch Shell and Shell petroleum
development company (SPDC) Nigeria began in the high court
on 6 April 2011. Last week Shell Nigeria said: "SPDC
accepts responsibility under the Oil Pipelines Act for the
two oil spills both of which were due to equipment failure.
SPDC acknowledges that it is liable to pay compensation -
to those who are entitled to receive such compensation."
In 2010, after long years of talks and negotiations, the
UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) started a study
to get a clear image of oil pollution in Ogoniland, a
region where oil production has been on hold for over 18
years now. The Ogoni people forced Shell out of their
region after years of protests against pollution and the
lack of social development. Ever since, Shell and the
Nigerian authorities have been looking for a way to appease
the region that is so important for oil production and oil
transit, and therefore also for the cash flow to Shell and
the Nigerian State.
What is Ogoniland?
Ogoniland is located in the Niger Delta in southern
Nigeria. Ogoniland sits between Port Harcourt, the oil
capital of Nigeria and home to Shell Nigeria, and Bonny
Island, where the main oil-export terminals are located.
Main oil export pipelines such as the trans-Niger pipeline
run through Ogoniland. Most Ogoni settlements are near the
main river that connects Port Harcourt to the Atlantic
Ocean or along other tidal creeks.
The Ogoni, like most Niger Delta inhabitants, are farmers
and fishermen. Traditionally, the Niger Delta was a fertile
region, important for food production. The Ogoni were a
thriving ethnic nationality. As the Ogoni live relatively
close to a large city and major oil installations, they
have been very much aware of what has been going on since
oil was discovered.
Shell in Ogoniland
Ogoniland is an important region for Shell as its main
Nigerian export pipelines and major onshore oil fields are
located in Ogoniland. Shell had to leave Ogoniland in 1993
and has not produced oil there since. In early 2011 the
Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) announced it
planned to restart oil production in Ogoniland on behalf of
the Shell joint venture. The Ogoni however made clear that
the NNPC is not welcome either.
A very short history of Ogoniland
Ogoniland is part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which
was established by the British and became independent after
the Second World War. Many different ethnic groups and
religions were brought together in one large country. Soon
after Nigeria's independence, oil production took off.
Ethnic groups in the south of the country felt
discriminated against by more populous ethnic groups and
decided to leave the Federation. Their new country was
called Biafra. This however turned out to be a dramatic
mistake, as the Nigerian government and army fought hard to
regain control of Biafra and its oil.
Since the war, oil companies and the State have been
perceived as being hand in glove: a colonial power
profiting from the oil in the Delta Region without bringing
benefits to the region. The Ogoni turned out to be the most
organised ethnic group and, inspired by poet Ken Saro Wiwa,
organised mass demonstrations against Shell, forcing the
oil company out. A few years later, on 10 November 1995,
Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his colleagues were hanged by
the Nigerian military government.
Scepticism and resentment
While the Ogoni were successful in stopping oil production,
the oil pollution remained. Over the years many promises
were made and studies were done in Ogoniland and elsewhere.
Effective clean-up of older spills, however, never took
place. It is quite clear to local people where the
pollution is and they do not see why research is necessary.
There is a lot of scepticism regarding the willingness of
the state and federal governments and the oil companies to
spend money on cleaning up the Delta. Corruption and a lack
of independent institutions make it difficult to embark on
a successful clean-up project including monitoring studies.
The UNEP project
As the anger in the Delta grew and government and oil
companies became convinced that action should be taken to
prevent a real uprising, they turned to the UNEP, an
independent, outside institution. It took over a year
before the state and federal governments agreed on the
project plan, but the project was started in 2010. The aim
was to map all polluted sites in Ogoniland so that a plan
for clean-up could be constructed. The map was to be
published after a year, in early 2011. The UNEP worked with
foreign experts and trained local sample-takers and liaison
officers. Samples were analysed in foreign laboratories.
The project was paid for by Shell and as a UN institution,
the UNEP reports to the Nigerian Government. The project
went well and the final report was to be published in
February or March 2011. But then the publication was
postponed until after the elections.
Mike Cowing's statement
June 2010: Mike Cowing, the project manager of the UNEP
pollution study, appeared on the Dutch TV documentary
(Zembla) and was very critical of Shell's behaviour in
Nigeria. He explained that Shell did not clean up pollution
from an oil spill in Goi according to international
August 2010: An article was circulated in the press stating
that at a UNEP press conference Mike Cowing said that 90%
of oil spills in Ogoniland are caused by gangs that steal
oil from pipelines, a practice called illegal bunkering.
NGOs â amongst which Milieudefensie [Friends of the Earth
Netherlands] and FoEI â reacted with utter amazement. They
pointed out the fact that the UNEP was not investigating
the causes of pollution, that the UNEP project was far from
finished and that Mr Cowing must have been making
statements on the basis of hearsay. Which spills and which
period Mr Cowing was speaking about never became clear.
23 August 2010: UNEP issued a press release officially
renouncing the statements of Mr Cowing. Soon after, Mike
Cowing was replaced as project manager but remained in
Nigeria working on the project.
Next step: Clean-up and prevention
Now that the study is finished, clean-up should start as
soon as possible. Too much time has been lost in which many
Ogoni have been unable to fish or farm, unable to generate
any income and often even unable to drink their local
water. According to Nigerian law, the oil companies are
responsible for clean-up irrespective of the cause of an
The Niger Delta is currently in a difficult situation. As
fishing and farming are problematic and there is a lot of
anger towards oil companies, bunkering and attacks on oil
installations continue, causing more oil pollution. Cleanup
and development are therefore essential for the
prevention of new spills, in addition to proper maintenance
monitoring of pipelines, carrying out integrity checks and
guarding of pipelines.
What remains: 80% of the Niger Delta
Ogoniland is an important and heavily polluted part of the
Delta Region. However, it is a small part of the Delta and
an unknown amount of oil lies elsewhere in the Delta.
International oil companies should ensure that the whole
Delta is cleaned up and that no new spills occur.
Responsibility of the Dutch and British Governments
Britain and the Netherlands as home countries of Royal
Dutch Shell have responsibilities to support and motivate
the Nigerian Government in dealing with oil pollution and
oil companies. This is also the case with France for Total,
Italy for ENI and the USA for Exxon. Useful expertise
concerning pollution control and the regulation of oil
companies is available in all these home countries.
Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland
UNEP, August 2011
[Excerpts from executive summary. For full executive
summary, full report, and detailed site reports, visit
Covering around 1,000 km2 in Rivers State, southern
Nigeria, Ogoniland has been the site of oil industry
operations since the late 1950s. Ogoniland has a tragic
history of pollution from oil spills and oil well fires,
although no systematic scientific information has been
available about the ensuing contamination.
With this independent study, conducted at the request of
the Federal Government of Nigeria, the United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP) reveals the nature and extent
of oil contamination in Ogoniland.
The Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland covers
contaminated land, groundwater, surface water, sediment,
vegetation, air pollution, public health, industry
practices and institutional issues.
This report represents the best available understanding of
what has happened to the environment of Ogoniland â and the
corresponding implications for affected populations â and
provides clear operational guidance as to how that legacy
can be addressed.
Involving desk review, fieldwork and laboratory analysis,
the two year study of the environmental and public health
impacts of oil contamination in Ogoniland is one of the
most complex on-the-ground assessments ever undertaken by
UNEP recruited a team of international experts in
disciplines such as contaminated land, water, forestry and
public health, who worked under the guidance of senior UNEP
managers. This team worked side-by-side with local experts,
academics and support teams comprised of logistics,
community liaison and security staff.
The UNEP project team surveyed 122 kms of pipeline rights
of way and visited all oil spill sites, oil wells and other
oil-related facilities in Ogoniland, including
decommissioned and abandoned facilities, that were known
and accessible to UNEP during the fieldwork period, based
on information provided by the Government regulators, Shell
Petroleum Development Company (Nigeria) Ltd (SPDC) and
community members in and around Ogoniland. Public meetings
staged throughout Ogoniland during each phase of the study
helped to build understanding of UNEP's project and to
foster community participation
During aerial reconnaissance missions, UNEP experts
observed oil pollution which was not readily visible from
the ground, including artisanal refining sites. Information
provided by Ogoniland residents about oil contamination in
their communities supplemented official oil spill data
supplied by the Nigerian Government and SPDC.
Following its initial investigations, UNEP identified 69
sites for detailed soil and groundwater investigations. In
addition, samples of community drinking water, sediments
from creeks, surface water, rainwater, fish and air were
collected throughout Ogoniland and in several neighbouring
areas. Altogether more than 4,000 samples were analyzed,
including water drawn from 142 groundwater monitoring wells
drilled specifically for the study, and soil extracted from
780 boreholes. The UNEP project team also examined more
than 5,000 medical records and staged 264 formal community
meetings in Ogoniland attended by over 23,000 people.
A selection of the study's key findings and recommendations
are summarized below. Given the vast amount of data
generated during the assessment, the following content
should not be considered in isolation.
Summary of findings
UNEP's field observations and scientific investigations
found that oil contamination in Ogoniland is widespread and
severely impacting many components of the environment. Even
though the oil industry is no longer active in Ogoniland,
oil spills continue to occur with alarming regularity. The
Ogoni people live with this pollution every day.
As Ogoniland has high rainfall, any delay in cleaning up an
oil spill leads to oil being washed away, traversing
farmland and almost always ending up in the creeks. When
oil reaches the root zone, crops and other plants begin to
experience stress and can die, and this is a routine
observation in Ogoniland. At one site, Ejama-Ebubu in Eleme
local government area (LGA), the study found heavy
contamination present 40 years after an oil spill occurred,
despite repeated clean-up attempts.
The assessment found that overlapping authorities and
responsibilities between ministries and a lack of resources
within key agencies has serious implications for
environmental management on-the-ground, including
Remote sensing revealed the rapid proliferation in the past
two years of artisanal refining, whereby crude oil is
distilled in makeshift facilities. The study found that
this illegal activity is endangering lives and causing
pockets of environmental devastation in Ogoniland and
Contaminated soil and groundwater
The report concludes that pollution of soil by petroleum
hydrocarbons in Ogoniland is extensive in land areas,
sediments and swampland. Most of the contamination is from
crude oil although contamination by refined product was
found at three locations.
The assessment found there is no continuous clay layer
across Ogoniland, exposing the groundwater in Ogoniland
(and beyond) to hydrocarbons spilled on the surface. In 49
cases, UNEP observed hydrocarbons in soil at depths of at
least 5 m. This finding has major implications for the type
of remediation required.
At two-thirds of the contaminated land sites close to oil
industry facilities which were assessed in detail, the soil
contamination exceeds Nigerian national standards, as set
out in the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the
Petroleum Industries in Nigeria (EGASPIN).
At 41 sites, the hydrocarbon pollution has reached the
groundwater at levels in excess of the Nigerian standards
as per the EGASPIN legislation.
The most serious case of groundwater contamination is at
Nisisioken Ogale, in Eleme LGA, close to a Nigerian
National Petroleum Company product pipeline where an 8 cm
layer of refined oil was observed floating on the
groundwater which serves the community wells.
Oil pollution in many intertidal creeks has left
mangroves denuded of leaves and stems, leaving roots coated
in a bitumen-like substance sometimes 1 cm or more thick.
Mangroves are spawning areas for fish and nurseries for
juvenile fish and the extensive pollution of these areas is
impacting the fish life-cycle.
Any crops in areas directly impacted by oil spills will
be damaged, and root crops, such as cassava, will become
unusable. When farming recommences, plants generally show
signs of stress and yields are reportedly lower than in
When an oil spill occurs on land, fires often break out,
killing vegetation and creating a crust over the land,
making remediation or revegetation difficult.
Channels that have been widened and the resulting dredged
material are clearly evident in satellite images, decades
after the dredging operation. Without proper
rehabilitation, former mangrove areas which have been
converted to bare ground are being colonized by invasive
species such as nipa palm (which appears to be more
resistant to heavy hydrocarbon pollution than native
In Bodo West, in Bonny LGA, an increase in artisanal
refining between 2007 and 2011 has been accompanied by a
10% loss of healthy mangrove cover, or 307,381 m2. If left
unchecked, this may lead to irreversible loss of mangrove
habitat in this area.
The UNEP investigation found that the surface water
throughout the creeks contains hydrocarbons. Floating
layers of oil vary from thick black oil to thin sheens. The
highest reading of dissolved hydrocarbon in the water
column, of 7,420 micrograms/l, was detected at AtabaOtokroma,
bordering the Gokana and Andoni LGAs.
Fish tend to leave polluted areas in search of cleaner
water, and fishermen must therefore also move to less
contaminated areas in search of fish. When encountered in
known polluted areas, fishermen reported that they were
going to fishing grounds further upstream or downstream.
Despite community concerns about the quality of fish, the
results show that the accumulation of hydrocarbons in fish
is not a serious health issue in Ogoniland but that the
fisheries sector is suffering due to the destruction of
fish habitat in the mangroves and highly persistent
contamination of many of the creeks, making them unsuitable
Where a number of entrepreneurs had set up fish farms in
or close to the creeks, their businesses have been ruined
by an ever-present layer of floating oil.
The wetlands around Ogoniland are highly degraded and
facing disintegration. The study concludes that while it is
technically feasible to restore effective ecosystem
functioning of the wetlands, this will only be possible if
technical and political initiatives are undertaken.
The Ogoni community is exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons
in outdoor air and drinking water, sometimes at elevated
concentrations. They are also exposed through dermal
contacts from contaminated soil, sediments and surface
Since average life expectancy in Nigeria is less than 50
years, it is a fair assumption that most members of the
current Ogoniland community have lived with chronic oil
pollution throughout their lives.
Of most immediate concern, community members at
Nisisioken Ogale are drinking water from wells that is
contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen, at levels
over 900 times above the World Health Organization (WHO)
guideline. The report states that this contamination
warrants emergency action ahead of all other remediation
Hydrocarbon contamination was found in water taken from
28 wells at 10 communities adjacent to contaminated sites.
At seven wells the samples are at least 1,000 times higher
than the Nigerian drinking water standard of 3
micrograms/l. Local communities are aware of the pollution
and its dangers but state that they continue to use the
water for drinking, bathing, washing and cooking as they
have no alternative.
Benzene was detected in all air samples at concentrations
ranging from 0.155 to 48.2 micrograms/m3. Approximately 10
per cent of detected benzene concentrations in Ogoniland
were higher than the concentrations WHO and the United
States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) report as
corresponding to a 1 in 10,000 cancer risk. ...
First issued in 1992, the EGASPIN form the operational
basis for environmental regulation of the oil industry in
Nigeria. However, this key legislation is internally
inconsistent with regard to one of the most important
criteria for oil spill and contaminated site management â
specifically the criteria which trigger remediation or
indicate its closure (called the 'intervention' and
'target' values respectively).
The study found that the Department of Petroleum
Resources (DPR) and the National Oil Spill Detection and
Response Agency (NOSDRA) have differing interpretations of
EGASPIN. This is enabling the oil industry to close down
the remediation process well before contamination has been
eliminated and soil quality has been restored to achieve
functionality for human, animal and plant life.
The Nigerian Government agencies concerned lack qualified
technical experts and resources. In the five years since
NOSDRA was established, so few resources have been
allocated that the agency has no proactive capacity for
oil-spill detection. In planning their inspection visits to
some oil spill sites, the regulatory authority is wholly
reliant on the oil industry for logistical support.
Oil industry practices
The study concludes that the control, maintenance and
decommissioning of oilfield infrastructure in Ogoniland are
inadequate. Industry best practices and SPDC's own
procedures have not been applied, creating public safety
Remediation by enhanced natural attenuation (RENA) â so
far the only remediation method observed by UNEP in
Ogoniland â has not proven to be effective. Currently, SPDC
applies this technique on the land surface layer only,
based on the assumption that given the nature of the oil,
temperature and an underlying layer of clay, hydrocarbons
will not move deeper. However, this basic premise is not
sustainable as observations made by UNEP show that
contamination can often penetrate deeper than 5 m and has
reached the groundwater in many locations.
Ten out of the 15 investigated sites which SPDC records
show as having completed remediation, still have pollution
exceeding the SPDC (and government) remediation closure
values. The study found that the contamination at eight of
these sites has migrated to the groundwater.
In January 2010, a new Remediation Management System was
adopted by all Shell Exploration and Production Companies
in Nigeria. The study found that while the new changes are
an improvement, they still do not meet the local regulatory
requirements or international best practices.
Summary of recommendations
The study concludes that the environmental restoration of
Ogoniland is possible but may take 25 to 30 years. The
report contains numerous recommendations that, once
implemented, will have an immediate and positive impact on
Ogoniland. Further recommendations have longer timelines
that will bring lasting improvements for Ogoniland and
Nigeria as a whole.
The hydraulic connection between contaminated land and
creeks has important implications for the sequence of
remediation to be carried out. Until the land-based
contamination has been dealt with, it will be futile to
begin a clean-up of the creeks.
Due to the wide extent of contamination in Ogoniland and
nearby areas, and the varying degrees of degradation, there
will not be one single clean-up technique appropriate for
the entire area. A combination of approaches will therefore
need to be considered, ranging from active intervention for
cleaning the top soil and replanting mangrove to passive
monitoring of natural regeneration. Practical action at the
regulatory, operational and monitoring levels is also
It is recommended that the restoration of mangroves be
viewed as a large-scale pilot project in which multiple
approaches to clean-up and restoration, once proven, can be
replicated elsewhere as needed in the Niger Delta.
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