Shell first started pumping oil in Niger Delta in 1958, and currently manages around 50 oil fields and a 5,000 km pipeline network. Despite making billions of dollars from Nigeria Shell has caused major environmental and human rights violations in Nigeria.
Home to 31 million people, the Niger Delta is one of the most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world. Yet Shell’s oil infrastructure has repeatedly spill massive amounts of oil, causing numerous ecology disastrous over the last half century. Between 1970 and 2000 the Nigerian government claimed there was more than 7000 oil spills.
Many farming villages are still recovering and unable to grow food, drink their water, or fish in streams, from oil spills that happened decades ago, destroying 10,000s of livelihoods and spreading massive poverty in the Niger Delta. One village, Kegbara Dere, experienced a bad spill in 1970. According to Amnesty International, despite Shell’s claims to have remediate the area, the soil is still to this day encrusted with oil.
Even today, hundreds of new spills happen every year. Shell’s own figures say 55,809,000 litres of oil have been spilled since 2007 alone. Amnesty’s research shows that this is a massive underestimate.
Many Nigerians have protested this injustice and fought back. The most notable was writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. In an unfair trail, with witnesses bribed by Shell, he, along with 8 other activists, was executed. In 2009 Shell was accused of collaborating in his execution and agreed to pay a $15 million settlement.
In the past, some have paid the highest possible price for fighting back. On 10 November 1995, Nigeria executed the writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others after an unfair trial.
In the 1990s Ken Saro-Wiwa had been at the forefront of protests against oil pollution. And his hanging alerted the world to the oil industry’s devastating impact on the Niger Delta.
In the last decade militant armed groups emerged and supported by local anger over Shell’s oil pollution and theft of resources begin to sabotage and attack Shell’s infrastructure eventually shutting down nearly half of Shell’s output and causing even more oil spills and environmental degradation. Shell often blames recent oil spills on the militants but Amnesty International and other organizations are quick to call out that, even with the militants, every year there are dozens of oil spills caused just by Shells faulty operations and Shell actively downplays each oil spill.
In 2013 a Dutch Court ruled that Shell is liable for the pollution in Niger Delta. In 2016 thousands of Nigerians are attempting to take Shell to court in Britain for their past environmental and human rights atrocities in the Niger Delta. Shell is currently pushing these cases to be held in Nigeria where many believe Shell will have more influence on the outcome. Twenty years after Ken Saro-Wiwa’s execution, a new generation of activists are carrying on the struggle for a clean future.
Al Jazeera Video on the History of Shell in Nigeria