The sticky black truth
Shell makes billions of dollars from selling oil and gas every year, and spends a fair bit of it on glossy marketing – including a project called #makethefuture, which asks young people for bright ideas to change the world.
But no amount of shiny PR can hide the sticky black truth about Shell’s ongoing pollution in southern Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta.
Home to 31 million people, the delta is one of the 10 most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world. Shell first started pumping oil here in 1958, and now runs around 50 oil fields and a 5,000 km pipeline network.
And every year, more oil from its broken pipelines and wells seeps into the delta’s water and soil.
Sadly, despite its riches, Shell still hasn’t come up with any bright ideas for how to stop this happening – or how to clean up the environment properly afterwards.
When Shell came, they promised that if they find oil they’ll transform our communityEmadee Roberts Kpai, Nigeria
Could your idea change the world?
Shell’s dirty past
“Everything just died like that,” says Barine Ateni. Barine is a farmer from Kegbara Dere (known as K. Dere) village, a tiny dot on the map of Africa’s largest river delta.
She is describing the aftermath of an oil spill that hit her community in 1970, when she was just a baby. It “destroyed all the aquatic life in the stream where we used to fetch water – our farmlands, every living thing there,” she says.
Shell claims to have cleaned up the site twice. But when Amnesty visited in August this year we found that the soil around Bomu Well 11 is still encrusted with oil, 45 years since it blew out.
Just down the road is Shell’s Bomu Manifold, a junction of several pipelines leading to the coast. It is surrounded by a fence and guarded by the military. When it blew out in 2009, the resulting fire burned for 36 hours.
Shell claims to have cleaned up that spill too – but our new research shows that this just isn’t true.Amnesty International
The Niger Delta and Shell’s oil pollution
Nigerian law says oil operators have to start cleaning up all oil spills within 24 hours. But two years after the 2009 spill near K. Dere, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found massive pollution, many times above the government’s safety limits.
And when Amnesty’s researchers visited four years later, in August 2015, we saw soil soaked with crude oil outside the Bomu Manifold. Water with an oily sheen was also running down the hill into a swamp called Barabeedom, where many villagers like Barine have their farms and fishponds.
“We are sad and angry, and we have been made poor,” says Barine. It’s easy to see why. Shell’s toxic legacy still lingers in her village, its half-hearted clean-ups having changed absolutely nothing.
It’s a pretty tragic track record for a company seemingly so ambitious to “make the future”.
Oil pollution and the Niger Delta – in pictures
“When Shell came to our community, they promised that if they find oil they’ll transform our community,” says Emadee Roberts Kpai, also from K. Dere.
While the oil wells proved to be full, their promises proved empty. Shell often boasts that it creates jobs in the areas where it works. But instead, oil pollution has destroyed the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people.
So while Shell’s executives and shareholders have made a fortune, whole communities across the delta have been driven deeper into poverty.
Barine and her neighbours talk of explosions and fires, people injured, of oil-filled drinking wells and fish dead in the river. Instead of enriching people, oil has poisoned their lives for over 50 years.
Enough is enough
Even today, hundreds of new spills happen every year. Shell’s own figures say 55,809,000 litres of oil have been spilled since 2007 alone. Amnesty’s research shows that this is a massive underestimate.
Enough is enough. Right now, people around the world are standing with Barine, Emadee and others across the delta, demanding that Nigeria’s government stop oil companies from getting away with pollution.
In the past, some have paid the highest possible price for fighting back. On 10 November 1995, Nigeria executed the writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others after an unfair trial.
Ken Saro-Wiwa had been at the forefront of protests against oil pollution. And his hanging alerted the world to the oil industry’s devastating impact on the Niger Delta.
Twenty years on, a new generation of activists is carrying on the struggle for a clean future.
#makethefuture – clean it up!
But Shell still isn’t listening. It is very hard for communities to take the company to court in Nigeria. The people of Bodo eventually decided to sue Shell in a UK court and won a landmark £55 million in compensation in January 2015. But even for them, a clean-up is still a distant dream.
Our new research clearly shows that four oil spill sites that Shell has publicly claimed to have cleaned up are still contaminated today.
“We had high hopes. Instead we got nothing. If I had money, I’d sue Shell for lying to us,” Emadee says.
Shell says most oil pollution is caused by sabotage and theft, even in cases where our research clearly shows that its own equipment has been to blame. It has also massively underestimated the volume of oil spilled.
How can any government anywhere possibly trust Shell with future oil drilling, when it still isn’t taking responsibility for cleaning up the Niger Delta?
We have an idea for how Shell can truly #makethefuture – start cleaning up your oily mess properly, now.Amnesty International