Nigeria’s Niger Delta region is known for its massive crude oil reserve. Many multinational oil giants are operating in the region, drilling and exploring the vast land for crude. In the process of doing this, some of this oil spill into the environment, contributing to the degradation of the environment. When this happens, farmlands are rendered infertile due to contamination and fish die in rivers from ingesting toxins. Residents are rendered jobless because they can neither farm on those lands nor fish in the rivers.
Many communities are clamoring for reparations from the oil companies that have contributed to the environmental hazards that has occurred in the region. This is for the spills that have occurred as far back as 2011. These communities teamed up and hired a law firm in the United Kingdom to sue a subsidiary of Shell Oil overseas. Unfortunately, in a lost that saw the communities come out with nothing but dashed hopes, the United Kingdom Supreme Court ruled against these Ijaw communities, citing the fact that they have no right to sue the subsidiary for a spill that has occurred long ago.
Yet another spill has rocked the communities.
A new oil spill at a Shell facility in Nigeria has contaminated farmland and a river, upending livelihoods in the fishing and farming communities in part of the Niger Delta, which has long endured environmental pollution caused by the oil industry. The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) told the press that the spill came from the Trans-Niger Pipeline operated by Shell that crosses through communities in the Eleme area of Ogoniland. This is a region where the London-based energy giant has faced decades-long local pushback to its oil exploration.
The volume of oil spilled has not been determined, but activists have published images of polluted farmlands, water surfaces blighted by oil sheens and dead fish mired in sticky crude. During the case against Shell in the UK, the legal representative of the multinational company argued that the spills that the company was being sued for was caused by saboteurs and pipeline vandals who bunker oil and run illegal refineries that cause soot in the region.
One of the worst spills in the last 16 years, says activist.
According to the UN Environmental Program, while spills are frequent in the region due to vandalism from oil thieves and a lack of maintenance to pipelines, activists call this a “major one.” Fyneface Dumnamene, an environmental activist whose non profit group monitors spills in the Delta region, told the media that this spill is one of the worst in the last 16 years in the region. The spill was said to have begun in June 11, 2023, and lasted for over a week. It burst into Okulu River, which adjoins other rivers and ultimately empties into the Atlantic Ocean, affecting several communities and displacing more than 300 fishers, according to Dumnamene of the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre.
He said tides have sent oil sheens about 10 kilometers (6 miles) further to creeks near the nation’s oil business capital, Port Harcourt. Shell stopped production in Ogoniland more than 20 years ago amid deadly unrest from residents protesting environmental damage, but the Trans-Niger Pipeline still sends crude from oil fields in other areas through the region’s communities to export terminals. NOSDRA Director-General, Idris Musa, said that the leak has been contained, but treating the fallout from the spill at farms and the Okulu River has stalled. The apparent deadlock is caused by mistrust and past grievances in the region.
Community residents are angry because of the ongoing destruction.
Activists say that Africa’s largest economy overwhelmingly depends on the Niger Delta’s oil resources for the majority of its earnings, but pollution from that production has deprived residents of access to clean water, hurt farming and fishing, and increased the risk of violence. Dumnamene said that the communities are angry because their livelihoods are being destroyed as a result of the Shell’s obsolete equipment. They are also concerned that Shell and national regulators will blame the spill on sabotage by the residents as they often did.