oil spills

Illegal refining and third-party interference are the main sources of pollution in the Niger Delta today. Third-party interference is the cause of 90% of the number of spills of more than 100 kilograms from The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited operated Joint Venture (SPDC JV) pipelines in 2016.

Security in the Niger Delta

Security in parts of the Niger Delta remains a major concern with persisting incidents of criminality, vandalism, threats from self-described militant groups, host community agitations and offshore piracy. There were renewed acts of sabotage by self-described militant groups on oil and gas infrastructure in parts of the Niger Delta in 2016, which severely impacted oil and gas operations. For example, export operations at the SPDC- operated Forcados Oil Terminal (FOT) were disrupted after three sabotage incidents in 2016.

This resulted in loss of revenue, particularly for domestic producers who rely on the FOT for export. Facilities operated by both indigenous and international oil and gas companies were vandalised by attacks and other illegal activities such as crude oil theft, which led to a sharp decline in oil and gas production and incidents of environmental contamination. The consequences included a loss of revenue for the Federal Government of Nigeria and major disruptions to gas supply to power electricity for industry, businesses and public sector services.

The safety of staff and contractors in Nigeria remains the top priority. Shell Companies in Nigeria aim to mitigate security risks that may impact people, the environment and assets – thus operations are carried out only where it is safe to do so. We continue to deploy in-country expertise to mitigate security risks around our operations. We also continue to engage with the government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as local communities, to help promote human rights and a peaceful and safe operating environment.

Our dialogue is underpinned by ongoing community development activities.

Spills from Third-party Interference

Oil spills due to crude oil theft and sabotage of facilities (referred to as thirdparty interference), as well as illegal refining cause the most environmental damage from oil and gas operations in the Niger Delta. Irrespective of cause, the SPDC JV cleans up and remediates areas affected by spills originating from its facilities. The spills are sometimes made worse where there are access challenges to the incident sites to investigate and stop leaks. Third-party interference on pipelines and other infrastructure was responsible for 90% of oil spill incidents of more than 100 kilograms from SPDC JV facilities in 2016.

Crude oil theft on the pipeline network resulted in a loss of about 5,660 barrels of oil a day (bbl/d) in 2016, which is less than the 25,000 bbl/d in 2015. The number of sabotage-related spills declined to 45* compared with 93 in 2015.

The reduction in oil theft and sabotage-related spills from the previous year can be attributed to continued improvements in air and ground surveillance and response by government security forces, lower production levels at SPDC JV operations in the Western part of the Niger Delta due to acts of sabotage and the divestment in 2015 of the Nembe Creek Trunkline (NCTL).

Spills from Operations

A key priority for Shell is to achieve the goal of no spills from its operations. No spill is acceptable and we work hard to prevent them. Shell Companies in Nigeria operate under the same standards as all other Shell-operated ventures globally. Regrettably, in addition to spills caused by criminal activity there were seven operational spills of more than 100 kilograms in volume from Shell Companies in Nigeria facilities during 2016. This number is less than the 16 spills in 2015, due to continued progress on preventing operational spills, such as regular inspections and maintenance of pipelines.

In 2016, the total volume of oil spilled from operational incidents remained at 0.2 thousand tonnes, the same as 2015. These numbers include one spill of 0.15 thousand tonnes caused by an unintentional third-party damage to a SPDC JV pipeline.

Prevention of Spills

To reduce the number of operational spills, the SPDC JV is focused on implementing its ongoing work programme to appraise, maintain and replace key sections of pipeline and flowlines. Fifty-seven and forty-two kilometres of flow lines and pipelines respectively were installed in 2016 bringing the total distance of flow lines and pipelines replaced over the last five years to nearly 1000 kilometres.

SPDC continues to undertake initiatives to prevent and minimise spills caused by theft and sabotage of its facilities in the Niger Delta. In 2016, we sustained on-ground surveillance efforts on SPDC JV’s areas of operations, including its pipeline network, to mitigate incidences of third-party interference and ensure that spills are detected and responded to as quickly as possible.

There are also daily over-flights of the pipeline network areas to identify any new spill incidents or activities. We have also installed state-of-the-art high definition camera to a specialised helicopter that greatly improves the surveillance of our assets and have implemented anti-theft protection mechanisms on key infrastructure.

SPDC has collaborated with multiple stakeholder groups in the Niger Delta to implement several initiatives and partnerships to raise awareness on the negative impact of crude oil theft and illegal oil refining. For example, community-based pipeline surveillance and the promotion of alternative livelihoods through Shell’s flagship youth entrepreneurship programme, Shell LiveWIRE. More details about these initiatives can be found in the ‘Ogoniland’ section.

Spill Response and Clean-up

When a leak is identified, production is suspended and efforts made to contain any spilled oil. We regularly test our emergency spill response procedures and capability to ensure staff and contractors can respond rapidly to an incident. In line with government regulations, a Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) team visits the spill site to establish the cause and volume of oil spilled. The team is led by the SPDC staff and includes representatives of the regulatory bodies, police, the state government, NGOs and impacted communities.

The SPDC JV cleans and remediates the area impacted by spills from its facilities, irrespective of cause. In the case of operational spills, it also pays compensation to people and communities impacted by the spill. Once clean-up and remediation are completed, the work is inspected, and once satisfactory, approved and certified by Federal Government of Nigeria regulators – the Department of Petroleum Resources and National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency.

SPDC’s remediation practices are compliant with the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria (EGASPIN), Revised Edition 2002 as well as other relevant international standards. EGASPIN provides for the management and remediation of contaminated land. To this end, SPDC has researched and adopted techniques for cleaning up oil spills that we believe to be the most effective for the soil and climate conditions in the equatorial heat of the Niger Delta.

Since 2012, SPDC has worked with the International Union for Conservation of Nature to enhance remediation techniques and protect biodiversity at sites affected by oil spills in SPDC’s areas of operation in the Niger Delta. Based on this partnership, SPDC has launched remediation improvement initiatives to help strengthen its remediation and rehabilitation efforts.

The SPDC JV also works with communities and civil society across the Niger Delta to build greater trust in spill response and clean-up processes. Wherever possible, local communities take part in the remedial work. In certain instances, some NGOs such as The National Coalition on Gas Flaring and Oil Spills in the Niger Delta (NACGOND), have also participated in the JIVs.

SPDC is also the only oil and gas company in Nigeria to publish data on all spills in its areas of operation online. The oil spills website went live in 2011. At the start of 2016, there were 270 sites identified for remediation and certification, of which 92 have been remediated and certified, with 31 in Ogoniland (representing a net reduction of 22% in remediation sites in that area during 2016). During 2016, 73 new sites requiring remediation were identified, of which nine were in Ogoniland. The overall total of oil spill sites requiring remediation is 251.

Download a PDF version of this report


* Excluding figures from Forcados incidents in 2016.

More In Briefing Notes


The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) as operator of the SPDC Joint Venture (SPDC JV) carried out exploration and production operations in Ogoniland from the 1950s to the early 1990s. 

Nigerian Content Development

The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) as operator of the SPDC Joint Venture (SPDC JV) carried out exploration and production operations in Ogoniland from the 1950s to the early 1990s.