The history of oil exploration and production in Ogoniland is a long, complex and often painful one that to date has become seemingly intractable in terms of its resolution and future direction.
It is also a history that has put people and politics and the oil industry at loggerheads rendering a landscape characterized by a lack of trust, paralysis and blame, set against a worsening situation for the communities concerned.
The reality is that decades of negotiations, initiatives and protests have ultimately failed to deliver a solution that meets the expectations and responsibilities of all sides.
In an attempt to navigate from stalemate to action, the federal government in consultation with many of the relevant actors, invited the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP to consider undertaking an assessment of oil pollution in Ogoniland.
The findings in the report underline that there are, in a significant number of locations, serious threats to human health from contaminated drinking water to concerns over the viability and productivity of ecosystems. In addition that pollution has perhaps gone further and penetrated deeper than many may have previously supposed.
The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, SPDC, since then has taken proactive measures working with the relevant stakeholders to implement the 2011 UNEP, Report on Ogoniland.
Over the last eight years, SPDC has taken action on all, and completed most, of the UNEP recommendations addressed specifically to it as operator of the Joint Venture, JV.
The UNEP report recommended the creation of an Ogoni Trust Fund with $1 billion capital to be co-funded by the Nigerian government, the SPDC JV and other operators in the area.
The SPDC JV has expressly and obviously remained fully committed to contributing its share of $900 million over five years to the fund.
In 2017, the oil major made $10 million available to help set up the Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project (HYPREP), an agency established by the federal government to lead the clean-up effort.
In 2018, the SPDC JV deposited a further $170 million into the escrow account to fund HYPREP’s activities, to complete its first-year contribution of $180 million.
It its avowed commitment to that course, the firm in 2019 contributed the next tranche of $180 million.
At the end of 2019, the total contribution made was $360 million which represents the full amount due for the two years.
The SPDC has been working with the Bodo community and others to clean up areas affected by two operational spills in 2008.
A memorandum of understanding granting SPDC access to begin the clean-up was signed in 2015 and two contractors were selected to conduct the clean-up, overseen by an independent project director.
The clean-up consists of three phases, which include the removal of free phase surface oil, remediation of soil and planting of mangroves and monitoring.
To further demonstrate its commitment, the removal of surface oil which started in September 2017 was successfully completed in August 2018.
Also, field remediation activities started in November 2019 following a contract procurement process to select remediation contractors.
In addition 800 community workers have been medically checked, assessed for their swimming ability to ensure they can safely respond to incidents in rivers and creeks, and trained to International Maritime Organisation oil spill response Levels one and two.
Remediation is expected to take around 18 months while the clean-up will only be successful if the repeated re-contamination of cleaned-up sites from illegal third-party activity stops.
Responding To UNEP Recommendations
Since 2011, the SPDC has taken action on all the recommendations addressed specifically to it as operator, which re-assessed 15 SPDC JV sites mentioned in the UNEP report and remediated further where required with the sites certified by government regulators.
The firm completed an inventory and physical verification of assets for decommissioning and working with Joint Venture partners and the Nigerian government to develop a decommissioning plan for these assets.
Also completed is a comprehensive review of its oil spill response and remediation techniques and made a number of improvements in line with industry best practices while collaborating with the Rivers State Government to deliver water to impacted communities and built water facilities, which are expected to be upgraded as part of HYPREP’s planned activities.
It has trained contractors on clean-up and remediation techniques and assigned specialist supervisors to a number of project sites to ensure effective oversight and compliance and is carrying out regular aerial monitoring of the JV’s facilities in Ogoniland, including the creeks and pipelines, to identify new incidents or activities (such as theft and sabotage) which may result in environmental damage.
Tackling Oil Spill In Niger Delta
Oil spillage is a regular occurrence in the Niger Delta due to third party infractions of oil facilities.
Evidently, vandals, oil theft and illicit refining by some unscrupulous elements in the region has remained unabated.
But in 2019, the SPDC JV reduced operational spills to their lowest levels, significantly reduced breaches from wellheads and cleaned up more spill sites than ever before.
The energy company reported seven operational spills in 2019, a 46.6 percent decrease over the previous year (when it recorded 15 such spills).
Data obtained by Oriental News Nigeria showed that in 2019, theft and sabotage resulted in 156 spills while in 2018, the figure was 109.
The SPDC JV has a policy that when a leak is identified, the team responds to contain any spilled oil and clean up. In 2019, SPDC JV remediated 130 sites.
The firm is working assiduously to eliminate spills from its operational activities, remediate past spills and prevent spills caused by crude oil theft, sabotage of pipelines or illegal oil refining. While SPDC operates to the same technical standards as other Shell companies globally, illegal activities continue to inhibit a normal operating environment.
Past spills from operational and illegal activities have been well documented, resulting in a clean-up programme and, where appropriate and compensation.
However, there is still much work to do to get the company to its target of Goal Zero in all spills (operational and third-party vandalism). But through a solid strategy, active partnerships, closer community engagements, bold security and new surveillance equipment, the company is steadily making good progress. This progress is in the following areas: Improving performance, preventing illegal activity, response and investigation, improving remediation and clean-up in Ogoniland.
Scaling Up Performance
Shell has a global ambition to achieve no harm and no leaks across all its operations. This is known as Goal Zero. To reduce the number of operational spills in Nigeria, the SPDC JV is focused on implementing its ongoing work programme to appraise, maintain and replace key sections of pipelines and flow lines. In 2019, SPDC completed another 30 kilometres of new pipelines, bringing the total laid over the last eight years to around 1,330 kilometres.
These efforts have significantly reduced operational spills over 100 kilograms to seven incidents and 28 tonnes of crude in 2019, compared to 15 incidents and 413 tonnes in 2018. It represents a year-on-year reduction of more than 90% by volume, returning the joint venture to its trend of reducing operational spills.
Community engagement and the ongoing commitment from government agencies has also helped shorten response times to incidents. SPDC’s average time to complete the clean-up of free and/or residual spilled oil has halved from 13 days in 2016 to seven days in 2019. Closer engagement with communities has helped SPDC to access spill locations more quickly, meaning on average that joint investigations now commence within three days in 2019 compared to six days in 2016.
Notwithstanding, the challenge of preventing spills relating to sabotage and theft by third parties remains. These illegal activities accounted for 95% of the SPDC JV spill incidents in 2019, a similar proportion to previous years.
In 2019, there were 156 theft and sabotage-related spills over 100 kilograms, up from 109 in 2018. This is due to factors such as increased availability of production facilities after a major export line repair in
2017, crude theft activities in an election year when government security agents can be reassigned, and the price of crude oil and refined products that is seen as an opportunity for illegal refining. Despite preventive efforts, spilled volumes from illegal activities increased to around 2,000 tonnes of crude in 2019, compared with around 1,600 tonnes in 2018.
Responding To Spills
When a leak is identified, production is suspended, and efforts made to contain any spilled oil. We regularly test our emergency spill response procedures and capability to ensure staff and contractors can respond rapidly to an incident.
In line with government regulations, a Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) team visits the spill site to establish the cause and volume of oil spilled. The team comprises representatives from SPDC, regulators, government security agencies, state governments and communities.
In addition to responding to recent spill incidents, the SPDC JV continues to identify and remediate legacy spill locations. In 2019, 130 sites were remediated and 123 certified by Nigerian government regulators, compared to 116 certified and 45 remediated in 2018.
Regardless of the cause, SPDC cleans up and remediates areas impacted by spills that come from its operations. In the case of operational spills, SPDC also pays compensation to communities impacted by the spill. Once the clean-up and remediation are completed, the work is inspected and, if satisfactory, approved and certified by Nigerian government regulators.
SPDC works with a range of stakeholders in the Niger Delta to build greater trust in spill response and clean-up processes. Local communities take part in the remediation work for operational spills. In certain instances, some non-governmental organisations have also participated in joint investigation visits along with government regulators, SPDC and members of impacted communities to establish the cause and volume of oil spilled.
The company has also worked with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2012 to enhance remediation techniques and protect biodiversity at sites affected by oil spills in SPDC’s areas of operation in the Niger Delta. This work includes using bioremediation, a process that uses micro-organisms to naturally break down and, ultimately, remove oil contamination.
In 2019, SPDC and IUCN joined forces on the Niger Delta Biodiversity Technical Advisory Group, which also includes representatives from the Nigerian Conservation Foundation and Wetlands International. The groups will continue to work together to monitor biodiversity recovery of remediated sites. Four sites have been assessed and selected as pilot sites for monitoring. These sites represent three ecosystems in the Niger Delta: land, seasonal swamp and swamp.
The Niger Delta Panel, an independent scientific advisor, has also provided input on oil spill response and remediation of soil and groundwater contamination. Based on this, SPDC strengthened its approach in this area.
Bioremediation Using Land Farming Techniques
SPDC’s remediation practices are compliant with the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria (EGASPIN). The techniques adopted by SPDC are believed to be the most effective for the soil and climate conditions in the equatorial heat of the Niger Delta. Bioremediation using land farming techniques is recognised internationally and often advocated by regulators such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Environment Agency in the UK. It aims to restore the land to conditions acceptable to human health and the environment. It stimulates the natural microbial processes that break down and use the carbon-rich oil contamination as a source of food and energy, ultimately leading to its removal.
Bioremediation has wider positive impacts, for example in developing local expertise and generating employment. SPDC, however does use other technologies where appropriate.
Fighting Illegal Activities
The SPDC JV is committed to minimising the impact of third-party incidents and spills. The company works with government agencies, non-governmental organisations and communities to proactively minimise spills from illegal activity. This work includes:
Using simplified zonal pipeline maps to enhance targeted response to third-party interference and prevent incidents from occurring. Since 2017, SPDC has also been able to remove more than 523 illegal theft points. Illegal theft points are identified by daily inspections from the air and on the ground.
Shell has also implemented anti-theft protection mechanisms, such as anti-tamper locks and steel cages for wellheads. Around 301 cages have been installed so far and around 80 more are planned for 2020 that will all come with CCTV technology. In 2019, three breaches of the cages were recorded out of 300 attempts. As a result, wellhead-related losses significantly dropped from about 30 kb/d in 2016 to less than 1 kb/d in 2019 across all SPDC operations.
The International Oil Company (IOC) has also implemented several initiatives and partnerships to raise awareness of the negative impact of crude oil theft and illegal oil refining. Examples include community-based pipeline surveillance, radio jingles and the promotion of alternative livelihoods through Shell’s youth entrepreneurship programme, Shell LiveWIRE.