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Shell Dodging Responsibility One Oil Spill at a Time

In the Niger Delta, where Shell’s oil operations have been as welcome as a mosquito at a BBQ…

Posted by John Donovan: 19 Jan 24

In the latest episode of ‘Shell’s Adventures in Nigeria,’ the British multinational energy giant, known for its gentle caress of the environment (cue eye roll), has announced plans to sell off its onshore Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC). The price tag? A cool $2.4 billion (€2.2 billion). The buyers? Renaissance, a band of Nigerian explorers and an international energy group. But wait, there’s a catch – it’s still waiting for the Nigerian government’s thumbs up.

Shell, in a classic ‘it’s not me, it’s you’ move, says this sale is all about “simplifying our portfolio” and keeping their hands in the Deepwater and Integrated Gas cookie jars. It’s like a magician saying, “Look over here!” while the other hand makes the rabbit disappear.

Now, Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer, is like a golden goose, pumping out nearly 1 million barrels of crude per day. But local activists aren’t buying Shell’s story. They see this divestment plan as Shell’s slick way of avoiding responsibility for years of environmental havoc.

“They are running away from the atrocities… and are trying to run away from it in a way of evading to pay a compensation or evading justice from the community,” said Kentebe Ebiarado of Environmental Rights Action, a group that’s probably not on Shell’s Christmas card list.

Other multinational companies are jumping on the divestment bandwagon, too, but let’s not forget Shell’s storied history in Nigeria. Since the 1930s, Shell has been part of Nigeria’s oil and gas scene, along with a slew of oil spills they attribute to everything but their own operations. It’s like a chef blaming the oven for a burnt cake.

Remember the Dutch court ruling in 2021 that ordered Shell to pay $111 million for oil spills in the 1970s? It’s like getting a parking ticket 50 years later.

In the Niger Delta, where Shell’s oil operations have been as welcome as a mosquito at a BBQ, locals like Chief Ernest Oginaba and Bemene Tanem are calling BS on Shell’s exit plan. “Shell has the responsibility to restore back our land,” Tanem said, probably not holding his breath.

Chima Williams, an environmental lawyer with more beef with Shell than a Texas rancher, questions Shell’s lack of chit-chat with the affected communities. He points out that Shell’s offshore shenanigans will likely continue, away from prying eyes.

Last year, Nigeria’s Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission slapped Shell with a bill for at least $12 billion for cleanup in Bayelsa state alone. Shell’s response? “Let Renaissance handle it.” It’s like leaving a party and saying, “The mess? Oh, the next guy will clean it up.”

Williams, a thorn in Shell’s side, is rallying Nigerians to pressure the government to give Shell’s deal the boot as they did with ExxonMobil’s divestment attempt. “The ExxonMobil divestment couldn’t happen because [activists] led the media, civil society groups [and] communities to raise the alarm,” he said.

In the end, Tanem sums it up: “Upon the billions and billions of dollars Shell is making out of Niger Delta on a daily basis, there is nothing to show for it in the Niger Delta communities.”

So as Shell tries to tiptoe out of Nigeria, leaving a trail of oil spills and broken promises, the world watches to see if this ‘Nigerian Goodbye’ will be more than just another slick escape.

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