Activists in Nigeria on Wednesday reported that a new oil spill occurred in Rivers State and is actively threatening the region’s water supply. The leak has been contained, but activists remain concerned over the perceived inaction by Nigerian authorities to address previous spills and ongoing pollution problems.
According to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), the oil came from the Shell Trans-Niger pipeline. Little detail about this particular spill is available at this time, including the volume of oil spilled, but local activists claim that this is particularly significant, sharing photos of the spill and speculating that there may be two active spill points within the same area.
NOSTRA also said Shell, regulators, Ogoniland residents and local authorities have begun an investigation to assess the cause and impact of the spill.
Fyneface Dumnamene and the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre have been working to raise awareness of the spill. The organization called for Shell and Nigerian authorities to visit the site in the course of their investigation.
There is an active UN Environment project seeking to help clean up the contamination caused by oil spills in Ogoniland due to aging Shell infrastructure. Shell has operated in Nigeria since 1937, and its presence has been long-scrutinised by activists. Production in Ogoniland ceased in 1993, but the affected pipeline, carrying crude from local oil fields to export terminals, remains.
The UN program’s 2011 assessment found that a cleanup that may last up to thirty years, with an initial investment of $1 billion just for the first five years, was necessary to clean up pollution from oil operations in the Niger Delta. While this was commenced in 2016 and adjusted in 2018, activists have claimed there has been little evidence of real change. The government refutes this, asserting that protests and lawsuits by activists have hindered them.
There have been several legal cases brought by citizens of the Niger Delta region along with climate activists against Shell’s pollution of the area and their responses to these disasters. According to Amnesty International, the company has come under “unprecedented legal scrutiny”, including investigations of allegations of systemic pollution and environmental damage. A recent example of this was the case of Okpabi and Others, in which the UK Supreme Court unanimously held that companies may be found to be negligent to third parties for environmental and human rights damages caused by their overseas subsidiaries, as was the case concerning these claimants. Just four months ago, a similar claim was brought by 13,652 individuals protesting Shell operations’ impact on their ability to farm and fish effectively. This claim is still in progress.