In September 2006, the managing director of Shell’s Nigerian oil operations sent a letter to the governor of Rivers State, one of Nigeria’s 36 states. The director, Basil Omiyi, said that a pipe on the Trans Niger Pipeline had not been inspected for several years and was of “immediate and utmost concern.”
“There is a risk and likelihood of rupture on this pipeline at any time, which if it happens, could have serious consequences for the safety of life, the environment and the nation’s economy,” he wrote.
Two years later, the pipe broke on two occasions (in August and December 2008), spilling up to 500,000 barrels of oil and inundating 35 square miles. A study by the United Nations Environmental Program later found extensive pollution of the soil, with hydrocarbon contamination penetrating at least five meters deep in some places.
“At 41 sites,” the authors wrote, “the hydrocarbon pollution has reached the groundwater at levels in excess of the Nigerian standards as per the EGASPIN [Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria] legislation.”
The spill destroyed the mangroves and water around Bodo, a town in Ogoniland in the Niger delta. Amnesty International reports that, after three years, neither Royal Dutch Shell nor its Nigerian subsidiary have cleaned the site. The spill could have been avoided had Shell decided not to continue pumping oil through a pipeline that was of questionable safety (its systems for detecting leaks, corrosion and flow rate were missing and not replaced).
“The result was an environmental catastrophe for the Bodo Community and the biggest loss of mangrove habitat in the history of oil spills,” said Martyn Day, a lawyer representing Bodo’s lawsuit against Shell. “The 40,000 residents of the Bodo Community primarily relied on fishing and their way of life and source of livelihoods has been destroyed for years to come.”
While Shell does not deny that its pipeline failed due to a faulty weld, it has disputed the volume of spilled oil around Bodo. Amnesty International estimates that the spill was equivalent to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.
In 2013, Shell produced 265,000 barrels of oil in Nigeria per day. About 180,000 barrels of oil travel through the Trans Niger Pipeline per day on their way to an export terminal on the coast.