Shell Oil, Preparing To Drill Arctic, Has Left Giant Nigerian Oil Spills Uncleaned

Our guest blogger is Kiley Kroh, associate director for Ocean Communications at the Center for American Progress.


The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy has conditionally approved Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to drill in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska’s coast next year.

After numerous accusations of Royal Dutch Shell covering up its oil spills in Nigeria, a landmark study released today by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) found that cleaning up five decades of spills in the region could require “the world’s most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken.” The highly anticipated report estimated that the damage wrought by Shell, by far the largest operator in the region, and other companies in the Niger Delta will cost an initial $1 billion and could take up to 30 years to complete.


UNEP’s analysis found that most of the oil spill sites the companies claim to have cleaned up are still highly contaminated and that emergency measures be taken to warn communities. The report identifies several severe public health and environmental threats — including soil contamination reaching more than five meters deep in many areas and, in Nisisoken Ogale, “researchers found 8cm of refined oil floating on ground water that served community wells.” Shell was ejected from the communities in 1994 for widespread pollution, but oil spills have continued to occur “in alarming regularity.”

The announcement comes on the heels of yesterday’s revelation that Shell would accept responsibility for two massive oil spills that have devastated a Nigerian community of 69,000 in the Ogoniland region and completely destroyed their livelihoods. According to the Guardian, experts who studied video footage of the spills estimate their combined impact could be as large as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, which spewed nearly 11 million gallons of oil into the Alaska coastline, and could take at least 20 years to clean up. Shell has previously maintained that less than 40,000 gallons were spilled.

The spills occurred in 2008 and 2009, contaminating a large stretch of rivers and waterways, and no attempt has been made to clean up any of the oil. A statement from the oil giant, however, claims that “SPDC (Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria) has always acknowledged that the two spills which affected the Bodo community, and which are the subject of this legal action, were operational…SPDC is committed to cleaning up all spills when they occur, no matter what the cause.”

With oil built up on creek sides and washing in and out with the tide, the impact on this fishing community has been catastrophic. Despite Shell’s acknowledgement of liability, their response to the Bodo people has been “insulting”:

According to the communities in Bodo, in two years the company has offered only £3,500 together with 50 bags of rice, 50 bags of beans and a few cartons of sugar, tomatoes and groundnut oil.

This from the company that just last week announced second-quarter profits of $8 billion, a 77 percent jump from the same period a year ago, bringing their total profits in the first six months of 2011 to an astonishing $14.9 billion.


The implications of Shell’s actions in Nigeria extend beyond the region alone. The president of Royal Dutch Shell’s U.S. operations is increasingly confident that the company’s proposal to drill in the harsh Arctic will be approved as early as 2012, despite a top Coast Guard officer’s recent testimony asserting that the U.S. government is not prepared to respond to a spill in Arctic waters. An oil spill in the untested Arctic is far more likely than any other place in the world, and the oil giant’s disdain for the Nigerian people does not bode well for the Native Alaskan communities that stand to be devastated by a spill.