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Disastrous consequences of oil extraction in Ogoniland

By John Donovan

The numbered paragraphs below are extracted from the English translation of a 138 page Writ of Summons served on several Royal Dutch Shell companies last week by Dutch Human Rights law firm Prakken d’Oliveira. They represent several widows led by Esther Kiobel, who hold Shell liable for the murder of their husbands, from an Ogoni leadership group known collectively as the ‘Ogoni Nine‘.


3.2 Consequences of oil extraction in Ogoniland

43. Ogoniland has been the homeland of the Ogoni, a population group of around 500,000 people in 1994. Currently around 1.5 million people live in Ogoniland.

44. Because of the density of population Ogoniland is a difficult place for the exploitation and exploration of oil fields. Nevertheless, Shell has built a network of 12 oil fields, 116 wells, five flow stations,34 different manifolds and kilometres of pipelines there.35 Ogoniland was responsible for around 10% of Shell’s oil production in Nigeria. The economic consequences of the protests of the Ogoni and the necessary cessation of production in Ogoniland in 1993 were therefore significant.36

45. In 2011, following a comprehensive study, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) concluded that 50 years of oil and gas extraction in Ogoniland had had disastrous consequences for the environment in the area and the health of the local population.37

46. Among the consequences that the oil pollution has had is that agricultural land in Ogoniland – which before the advent of the oil industry was known as the “breadbasket” of the region – has become permanently barren, rivers and creeks have become unsuitable for fishing and groundwater and drinking water are contaminated. The consequences for the local economy and public health are in line with this. The UNEP estimates that it would take 25 to 30 years and an investment running into billions to repair the damage in Ogoniland to some extent.38 Despite the abundance of mineral resources, the Ogoni are one of the poorest population groups in Nigeria and 80% of the population of the Niger Delta live below the poverty line.39

47. In 2002 the great environmental damage caused by the government and the oil companies in Ogoniland was recognised by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the Ogoni case. This case was brought against the Nigerian government by representatives of the Ogoni population. The African Commission came to the conclusion that several human rights had been violated, including the right to a clean and healthy living environment, the right to life and a violation of the prohibition of discrimination. The African Commission had harsh words to say about the interaction between the Nigerian government and the oil companies:

“the Nigerian Government has given the green light to private actors, and the oil Companies in particular, to devastatingly affect the well- being of the Ogonis [and] has allowed private oil companies to destroy food sources”.40

48. The judgment also quoted a note verbale of the Nigerian government at the time, in which it asserted that “there is no denying the fact that a lot of atrocities were and are still being committed by the oil companies in Ogoni Land and indeed in the Niger Delta area”.41

49. Critics accuse Shell of ‘ecological racism’, because it applies different environmental standards in its activities in Nigeria from those in the Western countries where it operates. For instance, Shell in Nigeria has for a long time accepted serious pollution, aboveground pipelines, gas flaring close to villages and inadequate compensation for land expropriation. In 2005 a Nigerian court convicted Shell in the Gbemre case of violating the basic right to a clean living environment and the right to life because of the harmful consequences of its gas flaring activities close to communities.42


34 In Ebubu, Korokoro, Yorla and two in Bomu (K-dere).

35 United Nations Environment Programme, Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, 2011, p. 24, available at: <accessed 24 April 2017>.

36 See for example the significant decline in oil production in 1994 and 1995, Security and Exchange Commission Form 20-F, Annual Report 1995 Koninklijke Nederlandsche Petroleum Maatschappij and the Shell Transport and Trading Company, plc (exhibit 162), p. 13; See also the Public Deposition of Robert Sprague, 10 February 2003 (exhibit 55), p. 108: “once we withdrew from Ogoniland it was, there was a large impact on production, so I am sure I prepared in some discussions because it was a big chunk of production which we didn’t want to lose, so it is the kind of thing we worry about”. In 1991-1994, Sprague was Head of Operations and Liaison at service company SIPM. By virtue of his position, he was the first point of contact for SPDC. In 1994 he became Exploration and Production Coordinator. In both functions he reported directly to one of the Group Managing Directors.

37 United Nations Environment Programme, Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, 2011, pp. 9-11, available at: <accessed 24 April 2017>.

38 Ibid, p. 12.

39 Exhibit 240: C.A. Lutz, “The Niger Delta Conflict and Military Reform in Nigeria”, in: “The Politics of Military Reform” J. Rüland et al., 2012, p. 201.

40 Exhibit 218: African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights, ACHPR/COMM/A044/1, 27 May 2002, paras. 58, 66. The African Commission found that Nigeria violated the following articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights: Articles 2 (non-discriminatory enjoyment of rights), 4 (right to life), 14 (right to property), 16 (right to health), 18 (family rights), 21 (right of peoples to freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources) and 24 (right of peoples to a satisfactory environment), p. 15.

41 Ibid., para. 42 (refers to note verbale 127/2000).

42 Exhibit 204: Federal High Court of Nigeria in the Benin Judicial Division, suit FHC/B/CS/53/05, 14 November 2005, Gbemre v Shell Petroleum Development Company Nigeria Limited and Others (2005) AHRLR 151 (NgHC 2005). In this case Shell was ordered to cease its gas flaring activities. When the case was due to return to court in 2006, the judge appeared to have been removed from the case.

Disclosure: The lead claimant Esther Kiobel, Channa Samkalden of the Dutch human rights law firm Prakken d’Oliveira representing the widows, and the acclaimed human rights organisation Amnesty International, have all kindly acknowledged my involvement in this case.

Shell blanket denial: Shell’s blanket denial of any responsibility for the ‘Ogoni Nine’ executions and related events can be read here

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