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Shell’s failure to protect Nigeria pipeline ‘led to sabotage’

Shell Nigeria’s declaration this week that it cannot meet its international commitment to export 300,000 barrels a day of crude oil was caused by the company withdrawing contracts to pay people to monitor and protect the pipeline, Shell and independent reports indicate. home

Attacks on key pipeline force company to declare ‘force majeure’ and reduce exports by 300,000 barrels a day

A man holds a shell coated in oil from a polluted river in the Niger delta. Photograph: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters

Shell Nigeria‘s declaration this week that it cannot meet its international commitment to export 300,000 barrels a day of crude oil was caused by the company withdrawing contracts to pay people to monitor and protect the pipeline, Shell and independent reports indicate.

Nine oil spills in three weeks along one pipeline in the Niger Delta have forced Shell Nigeria to declare that it cannot meet its international contracts to export 300,000 barrels a day of crude oil.

Nine oil spills in three weeks along the Adibawa-Okordia pipeline in the Niger Delta are believed to be the result of sabotage by disaffected youths using hacksaws. An unknown quantity of oil has been lost and, since 2 August, fishing grounds and farmland have been polluted . With three more spills reported in the last 24 hours it appears that the company has now lost some control of the pipeline.

On Tuesday the company declared “force majeure” on all Bonny light [crude] exports until the end of October. Force majeure is a legal term releasing a company from contractual obligations due to circumstances beyond their control. “On August 21, another three hacksaw cuts were reported on the nearby Adibawa delivery line,” said Shell in a statement. “Some production is shut in while the line is repaired.”

With this force majeure, Nigeria’s total production capacity, which stood at about 2.6m of crude oil barrels per day (BDP), has declined to about 2.3m BPD.

Unpublished independent reports of the latest incidents, seen by the Guardian, suggest that the nine spills have occurred because Shell recently withdrew contracts to pay people to monitor and protect the pipeline. In interviews conducted by Friends of the Earth (FoE) Nigeria within hours of the latest incidents, community leaders said Shell must take the blame.

“The oil spills in Ikarama are caused by Shell. The youths of Ikarama were pushing for an upward review of the wages paid [by Shell] to surveillance guards and the employment of more persons in the community for the security of the pipelines. [But] we suddenly heard that Shell has stopped the surveillance contract. This is the main reason behind the series of spills experienced in the community recently”, said Livingstone J. Berebo, secretary of the Ikarama Youths group.

Ikarama,a collection of villages in the southern Nigerian state of Bayelsa, is one of the most polluted sites in the entire Niger Delta. The major pipeline that passes through the fishing and farming community of 50,000 people has been the subject of many accidents and attacks over 20 years. The company regularly blames all incidents on sabotage, but the communities accuse Shell staff of working with contractors and youths to deliberately damage the pipeline in order to get the lucrative contacts to clean up the spills.

The company is obliged by Nigerian law to clean up all spills of its oil, whatever their cause.

“It does seem that the catalyst for the incidents in this case was the withdrawal of a contract”, said a Shell spokesman in London. “Shell does not attribute every single spill to sabotage. There is no evidence that Shell contractors or staff instigated any pipeline sabotage.” But he declined to comment on the possibility of contractors paying youths to deliberately damage the pipeline, or on the standard of clean-up work done.

Last week more than 100 women from the community demonstrated against the company. “Each time there is a spill, Shell attributes it to sabotage and prevents our people from witnessing when the spill point is being clamped [repaired] and to know the cause of spill. The company makes use of the military men to threaten and chase us away from the site. The community is never represented in joint investigations. Only Shell really knows what they are doing in our land,” Berebo said.

“Shell is not helping our community; the company disregards us and is wicked. Any spill here is attributed to sabotage always by Shell since about twenty years ago, chief Luke Ogbona told FoE Nigeria. “Shell will not listen to us because they know we don’t have people to fight for our rights.”

A report from the UN Environment Programme earlier this month said decades of oil pollution in the nearby Ogoniland area of the Niger Delta may take 30 years in what would become the world’s largest ever clean-up operation. While the UN did not apportion blame for dozens of major spills, it said that there were serious faults in the way that spills were investigated and cleaned up. It called for a $1bn fund to clean up Ogoniland.

Separately, Shell has accepted blame for two major spills in the Bodo community in 2008 and is expected to have to pay many millions of dollars to have them cleaned up to international standards.

“The authorities must properly investigate the spill incidents of the last three weeks in the Ikarama community and concerned groups and environmental organisations must be part of this process. In addition, Shell should identify the contractors and staff who are instigating pipeline ruptures in Ikarama”, said Nnimmo Bassey, head of Friends of the Earth International in Lagos.


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