An oil spill off the coast of the Niger delta is likely to be the worst the region has seen in over a decade. That's not counting onshore leaks, though; those are almost constant.
The company said up to 40,000 barrels of crude oil was spilled on Wednesday while it was transferred from a floating oil platform to a tanker 75 miles off the coast of the Niger delta.
All production from the Bonga field, which produces around 200,000 barrels a day, was last night suspended. "Early indications show that less than 40,000 barrels of oil have leaked in total. Spill response procedures have been initiated and emergency control and spill risk procedures are up and running," said Tony Okonedo, a Shell Nigeria spokesman.
The leak, which occurred on Tuesday at Shell's Bonga field, is said to be the worst offshore spill since the Mobil spill of 1998. AFP quotes Peter Idabor, head of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency: "It's about the same level with what happened in 1998 with the Mobil oil spill," he said. "The oil slicks went down the whole coast line and beyond Nigeria's borders."
The Bonga field is about 75 miles off the coast and has a capacity of 200,000 barrels per day. Production was halted last night.
Satellite pictures suggest that the spill was about 70 km long, and spread over about 356 sq miles.
But, the Guardian story explains, people don't have much faith in the figures available:
But a leading Nigerian human rights group said Shell's figures about the quantity of oil spilled or the clean-up could not be relied on. "Shell says 40,000 barrels were spilled and production was shut but we do not trust them because past incidents show that the company consistently under-reports the amounts and impacts of its carelessness," said Nnimmo Bassey, head of Environmental Rights Action, based in Lagos.
"We are alerting fisher folks and coastal communities to be on the look out. It just adds to the list of Shell's environmental atrocities in the Niger delta."
Shell is still cleaning up previous spills and only took responsibility less than five months ago for spills that occurred in 2008 and devastated nearby communities and the environment. A UN report put out this year predicts it will take Shell up to 30 years to clean up the area from the 2008 spills.