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Amnesty International: Environmental cases against Shell

Oil pollution in Kegbara-Dere (K-Dere) community in Ogoniland, Rivers State, Niger Delta, Nigeria. This community has experienced multiple oil spills since Shell started operations there in the 1960s. September 2015. © Michael Uwemedimo/
Shell’s pipelines in Ogoniland are old and poorly maintained. There have been several spills and in 2009 there was a huge fire, at the Bomu Manifold, at K. Dere, Rivers state. September 2015. © Michael Uwemedimo/
Dead periwinkles covered in oily mud from Bodo creek, Nigeria, May 2011. There were two massives spills in August 2009 from a poorly maintained Shell pipeline. © Amnesty International
Signboard warning people not to enter stream that has been contaminated by oil spills, Ogale, Rivers State, Nigeria. Every year there are hundreds of spills in the Niger Delta, and clean-up is often slow and ineffective. © Amnesty International

3.2 ENVIRONMENTAL CASES (Pages 16, 17, 18 & 10)

There are three separate legal proceedings taking place against Shell in Dutch and British courts relating to oil pollution. This has devastated the Niger Delta.

Data from Shell’s own spill incident reports reveal that from 2011-18 the company reported a huge number of spills – 1,010 – along the network of pipelines and wells that it operates.25 Spills have a variety of causes – from third-party tampering, to operational faults and corrosion of aged facilities. Shell blames most spills on theft and pipeline sabotage, and are not due to its own negligence.26

Research by Amnesty and CEHRD however show that the company’s facts and figures emerge from a flawed process for identifying the volume, cause and impact of oil spills.27 The research also shows that this process often lacks both independence and oversight, partly because the government regulators are so weak. As a result, Shell’s findings cannot be trusted.

For example, the company’s report for a spill in the Bodo area of Ogoniland in 2008 claimed that only 1,640 barrels of oil were spilled. However, based on an independent assessment published by US firm Accufacts Inc., Amnesty International calculated that the total actually exceeded 100,000 barrels.28 For years, Shell defended its far lower figure. But in November 2014 during a court case in the UK, Shell was finally forced to admit that the amount was indeed larger than it had previously stated.29

Similarly, Amnesty International research and data analysis has undermined Shell’s claims regarding the cause of oil spills.30 In many cases, we found that the company’s claims that spills were caused by theft or sabotage are based on inconsistent or incomplete evidence, and that the spills might instead have been caused by operational faults. Following an analysis of thousands of pages of oil spill reports and photographs, Amnesty International requested in 2018 that the Nigerian government oil spill regulator re-open investigations into almost 50 spills because evidence undermined Shell’s claims about their likely cause.31 The regulator has so far refused to do so.

Even in cases of spills caused by theft or sabotage, Shell still has responsibility. Nigerian law requires all pipeline operators to employ the best available technology and practice standards. These include measures to protect against spills resulting from third party interference, such as by strengthening or burying pipelines and surveillance.32 Nigerian law also requires oil companies to clean up spills from their infrastructure, regardless of the cause.33


Internal company documents and other sources collated by Amnesty International show that Shell staff have known for years that underinvestment and poor maintenance or equipment failure have been a major cause of the spills.

• In 1994, the head of environmental studies for Shell Nigeria, Bopp Van Dessel, resigned, complaining that he felt unable to defend the company’s environmental record, “without losing his personal integrity.”34

• The same year an internal paper revealed that Shell had not properly funded its pipelines and other infrastructure in Nigeria: “One measure of this deterioration is the frequency and severity of oil pollution incidents caused by corrosion and other integrity failures in the production system.”35

• In 1996, a Shell Nigeria “Country Business Plan” identified that its “infrastructure (was) poorly designed and maintained.”36

• In 2002, an internal Shell presentation stated: “the remaining life of most of the [Shell] Oil Trunklines is more or less non-existent or short, while some sections contain major risk and hazard.”37

• In 2008, a US diplomatic cable stated that a contractor with many years’ experience of laying pipelines in the Niger Delta reported that, “73 per cent of all pipelines there are more than a decade overdue for replacement. In many cases, pipelines with a technical life of 15 years are still in use thirty years after installation.”38

• In 2009, a Shell employee warned in an email that: “[the company] is corporately exposed as the pipelines in Ogoniland [in the Niger Delta] have not been maintained properly or integrity assessed for over 15 years.”39


The livelihoods, health and access to food and clean water of communities across the Niger Delta are closely linked to the land and environmental quality, and hence are vulnerable to oil contamination. This was documented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2011. UNEP exposed an appalling level of pollution in the Ogoniland region caused by oil spills that Shell had not adequately cleaned up. This included the contamination of agricultural land and fisheries, the poisoning of drinking water, and the exposure of hundreds of thousands of people to serious health risks.40

The main human rights impacts documented by Amnesty International and CEHRD include the following violations and abuses:41

– the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food – as a consequence of the impact of oil-related pollution and environmental damage on agriculture and fisheries.

– the right to water – which occur when oil spills pollute water used for drinking and other domestic purposes.

– the right to health – which arise from the failure to secure the underlying determinants of health, including a healthy environment, and the failure to enforce laws to protect the environment and prevent pollution.

– the right to ensure access to effective remedy for people whose human rights have been violated.

– the right to information of affected communities relating to oil spills and clean-up, and the impact that these have.

The violations are the result of the operations of the oil companies, including Shell, and the almost complete failure of the Nigerian government to regulate the oil industry and protect the rights of the people of the Niger Delta.

Shell has publicly said that, since 2011, it has addressed pollution at contaminated sites, as documented by UNEP.42 However, research by Amnesty International and CEHRD contradicts Shell’s claims.43


25. Shell Nigeria, Oil Spill Data,

26. Shell Nigeria, Oil Spill Data,

27. Amnesty International and CEHRD, Bad Information, p15-44; Amnesty International, Negligence in the Niger Delta, p15.

28. Amnesty International and CEHRD, Bad Information, pp49-53.

29. Amnesty International, “Court documents expose Shell’s false claims on Nigeria oil spills”, 2014, news/2014/11/court-documents-expose-shell-s-false-claims-nigeria-oil-spills

30. Amnesty International and CEHRD, Bad Information, p19-27, and Amnesty International, Negligence in the Niger Delta, p29-32.

31. Amnesty International, Negligence in the Niger Delta, p29.

32. For example, Nigerian law requires oil companies to ensure “good oil field practice” and to comply with internationally recognized standards, including those established by the American Petroleum Institute. Mineral Oils (Safety) Regulations 1962, Regulation 7.

33. Department of Petroleum Resources, Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria (EGASPIN), revised edition 2002, p148, para.2.6.3.

34. Shell, Exit Interview with JP Van Dessel, 28 November 1994, on file with Amnesty International.

35. Shell, Note for Information: Environmental and Community Relations Issues in Nigeria, December 1994, on file with Amnesty International.

36. The Shell Companies in Nigeria, Country Business Plan, 1996, on file with Amnesty International.

37. Amnesty International, Court documents expose Shell’s false claims on Nigeria oil spills, 13 November 2014, latest/news/2014/11/court-documents-expose-shell-s-false-claims-nigeria-oil-spills

38. Wikileaks, Nigeria: Pipeline Expert Says 73 Percent Of Niger Delta Pipelines Need Replacement, Cause Spills, Consulate Lagos (Nigeria), 17 December 2008.

39. Amnesty International, Court documents expose Shell’s false claims on Nigeria oil spills, 13 November 2014, latest/news/2014/11/court-documents-expose-shell-s-false-claims-nigeria-oil-spills

40. United Nations Environment Programme, Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, 2011, OEA/UNEP_OEA.pdf (hereafter, UNEP, Environmental Assessment).

41. For a full discussion on the human rights impact of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, see Amnesty International, Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta.

42. Shell Nigeria, The UNEP Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland,

43. Amnesty International and CEHRD, Clean it up.


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