Shell Accepts Liability For Nigerian Oil Spills For First Time - Region Will Take 30 Years To Clean Up

nigeria oil spill photo

photo: Sosialistisk Ungdom/CC BY-ND

If you thought the Gulf Oil Spill was bad, and it was, that was nothing compared to what's been happening for years on a sadly regular basis in Nigeria. After long denying responsibility, Shell Oil has finally accepted liability for two oils spills, which occurred in 2008 that effectively destroyed the community of Bodo.Prior to reversing its position in the last few days, Shell would only acknowledge that 40,000 gallons of oil had spilled. Now it admits, after a class action lawsuit filed against the company forced the issue, that 275 times that amount was in fact spilled.

To date no attempt has been made to clean up the oil which gushed from two separate ruptures of the Bodo-Bonny trans-Niger pipeline into a 20 square kilometer network of creeks in Ogoniland region of Nigeria.

Background on the dual spills:

The first oil ever exported from Nigeria was found just five miles away from Bodo in 1958. But chief Tella James, chair of Bodo's maritime workers, says life for the 69,000 people who live in the vicinity changed dramatically in August 2008 when a greasy sheen was first seen deep in the Bodo swamps miles from the nearest houses.

Shell disputes that, saying that a weld broke in September 2008 in the 50-year-old trans-Niger pipeline that takes 120,000 barrels of oil a day at high speed across the Niger delta. Either way the spill was not stopped until 7 November 2008. By that time, as much as 2,000 barrels a day may have been spilled directly into the water.

A month later in December 2008 the same pipeline broke again in the swamps. This time Shell did not send anyone to inspect or repair it until 19 February 2009. According to oil spill assessment experts who have studied evidence of the two spills on the ground and on film, more than 280,000 barrels may have been spilled. (The Guardian)

It's expected that it will cost Shell $100 million to clean up these two spills.

Since 1989 there have been more than 7,000 oil spills in the Niger River delta spilling over 13 million barrels of oil.

A report done by UNEP, funded (strangely) by Shell, on the situation in Ogoniland has been handed over to Nigeria's president.

Reuters has more on that report, but the gist is that the situation is far worse than has heretofore been acknowledged publicly--though plenty of activists have been trying to shed light on the severity of the problems which oil has brought to the Delta for years. As many of the spills in the region have never been cleaned up, oil has sunk deep into the water table and has devastated the local ecosystems. 80% of people in the region depend on the water for their livelihoods, on which they obviously no longer can do.

Beyond the two spills for which Shell has just accepted responsibility, the UNEP report notes that Shell and other oil companies operating in Ogoniland have systematically contaminated 1000 square kilometers of land. They have contaminated drinking water with benzene and other pollutants. The water has hydrocarbon pollution 1000 times levels deemed safe by the Nigerian government.

The report calls for a $1 billion clean up fund to be created, and expects it to take 25-30 years to clean up Ogoniland in what would be "the world's most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken."

More on Oil Spills
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Shell Denies Allegations in Nigeria, Where an Exxon-Valdez-size Spill Occurs Annually

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