Royal Dutch Shell in Nigeria

Almost 14 percent of Shell’s production – their biggest fields outside the U.S. – comes from Nigeria. Since they started drilling there in 1958, the Ogoni region, part of the Niger Delta, has yielded about $ 30 billion in oil revenues.

However, the people who live there profit very little from this money. With around 31 million inhabitants, the Niger Delta is one of the world’s most substantial wetland and coastal marine ecosystems. It is an important source of food for the rural population. According to a study conducted by a Nigerian university in 2011, a total of 2.4 million barrels have leaked into the delta.[1] Air pollution from gas flaring results in acid rain and respiratory problems in the surrounding communities. People have been driven off their land and Shell pipelines pass through villages and over what was once agricultural land.[2] “In at least 10 Ogoni communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public health is seriously threatened,” the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) concluded. They went on to say that some areas which appeared unaffected were actually “severely contaminated” underground.[3]

Countless peaceful marches and blockades for environmental and economic justice were met with violence.[4] Militant groups have occasionally sabotaged Shell infrastructure in the area, hoping to economically damage the company and regain power over their livelihood. Both Shell and the government admit that Shell contributes to the funding of the military in the Delta region. Under the premise of “protecting” Shell from peaceful demonstrators, the Nigerian police special forces destroyed houses and vital crops, and killed more than 2,000 people.

Shell blames the majority of spills on sabotage by oil thieves. However, organizations like Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth International have concluded that Shell exaggerated and substantiated this claim through flawed internal investigations in order to skirt responsibility for spills (see also an article in This Is Money).

In autumn 2012, Nigerian farmers took Shell to court in The Hague, hoping the company would be forced to change their methods, pay compensation, and clean up spills. In 2008 Shell’s Trans- Niger- pipeline ruptured twice over the course of only a few days in Bodo/ Ogoniland, spilling thousands of gallons of oil, polluting fishing grounds, and destroying livelihoods.[5] The Niger Delta is now one of the most polluted areas in the world, with millions of barrels spilled but not cleaned up since Shell’s oil field discovery in 1956. In 2011 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) investigated the Ogoniland pollution, issuing recommendations to Shell and the Nigerian government, and estimating it would take 30 years to clean. [6] Subsequent investigations have shown that the recommendations have not been implemented. [7]

On 30 January 2013, a Dutch judge ruled in favor of four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth Netherlands in their joint case against Shell Nigeria and its parent company Royal Dutch Shell. The court found Shell guilty of negligence and ordered the company to compensate residents in one of three affected villages that suffered severe oil contamination due to its operations. However, the court failed to hold Royal Dutch Shell accountable for the actions of its subsidiary, Shell Nigeria, in two accompanying cases concerning affected communities. Friends of the Earth Netherlands filed appeals to these decisions in May 2013.

In 2010, Shell was excluded from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index because of their continued oil pollution in Nigeria. Similarly, TRIODOS excluded Shell from their investments due to Shell´s ongoing human rights abuses in the region.

According to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, NOSDRA, in July 2012 Shell Nigeria (SNEPCO) was fined $5billion for a massive oil spill that occurred at its Bonga oil field on December 20, 2011.[8]

[1] Ekubo and Abowei, Aspects of Aquatic Pollution in Nigeria, Research Journal of Environmental and Earth Sciences 3(6): 673-693, 2011.

[2] Amnesty International; The true tragedy; delays and failures in tackling oil spills in the Niger delta, 2011.


[4], on 17.07.12.

[5] Vidal, J (2010): Nigeria’s agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill but Europe and the US ignore it; the observer, 30 May: (accessed 23.10.2014) []

[6]United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) (2011): Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland: (accessed 24.09.2014) []

[7] Friends of Earth Europe, Amnesty International, Environmental Rights Action, Platform and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (2014): No Progress. An evaluation of the implementation of UNEP’s environmental assessment of Ogoniland, Three years on: (accessed 24.09.2014) [