Oil spill from Shell pipeline contaminates farms, river in Nigeria
A Shell plant in Nigeria suffered an oil spill that contaminated and disrupted lives in farming and fishing villages.
An oil spill at a Shell plant in Nigeria has contaminated a river and farmland, disrupting lives in farming and fishing villages in the Niger Delta, which has suffered from oil sector contamination.
According to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, or NOSDRA, the spill came from the Shell-operated Trans-Niger Pipeline, which crosses through communities in the Eleme area of Ogoniland, a region where the London-based energy giant has faced decades of local opposition to its oil exploration.
The amount of oil spilled has not yet been calculated, but campaigners have released photographs of damaged farms, oil-stained water surfaces, and dead fish engulfed in sticky muck.
While spills are common in the region due to vandalism by oil thieves and a lack of pipeline maintenance, activists term this one a "major one," according to the UN Environmental Program. It is “one of the worst in the last 16 years in Ogoniland," said Fyneface Dumnamene, an environmental activist whose non-profit monitors spills in the Delta region.
“It lasted for over a week, bursts into Okulu River — which adjoins other rivers and ultimately empties into the Atlantic Ocean — and affects several communities and displaces more than 300 fishers,” said Dumnamene of the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre.
He stated that tides have sent oil sheens about 10 kilometers (6 miles) near the nation’s oil business capital, Port Harcourt.
More than 20 years ago, Shell stopped production in Ogoniland amid deadly unrest from residents protesting environmental damage, but the Trans-Niger Pipeline still sends crude from oil fields through the region's communities to export terminals.
The leak has been contained, but treating the fallout from the spill at farms and the Okulu River, which runs through communities, has stalled, NOSDRA Director General Idris Musa said. “Response has been delayed,” Musa said, blaming protesting residents. “But engagement is going on.”
Niger Delta's oil
Africa's greatest economy is heavily reliant on the Niger Delta's oil resources for revenue, but pollution from that production has deprived communities of access to clean water, harmed farming and fishing, and increased the risk of violence, according to activists.
The communities “are very angry because of the destruction of their livelihoods resulting from the obsoleteness of Shell’s equipment, and are concerned the regulator and Shell will blame sabotage by the residents,” Dumnamene said.
Thus, oil firms frequently accuse pipeline vandalism by oil thieves or disgruntled young people in impacted communities for spills, which may allow them to dodge accountability.
The London-based Shell said it is working with a joint investigatory team, consisting of regulators, Ogoniland residents, and local authorities, to identify the cause and impact of the spill.
Shell's response team “has been activated, subject to safety requirements, to mobilize to the site to take actions that may be necessary for the safety of the environment, people and equipment,” a company statement said.
Hundreds of farmers and fishermen who have been cut off from their livelihoods would insist on the restoration of the environment and then compensation, Dumnamene said.