Tag Archives: Ogoniland

Escaping 9 oil spills per month

The oil-rich Niger Delta has generated billions of dollars for Shell over the past 60 years, but the company’s operations have been plagued by sabotage, theft and oil spills that ravaged the local environment.  Though Nigeria was one of its most prolific regions for crude production in 2015, Shell has sold off tracts of onshore oil fields. Its new focus—sealed with the mammoth $50 billion acquisition of BG Group PLC this year—is deep-water wells off the coasts of the U.S. and Brazil and a historic shift toward natural gas that puts it at the forefront of oil companies offering a more climate-friendly image to investors.

The hearings in London’s High Court on November 2016 represented an early test for cases brought by the community of Ogale and a group from the Bille Kingdom. The communities are hoping to hold Shell accountable for environmental damage they claim has been caused by spills from infrastructure operated by Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria Ltd., or SPDC.  Shell is expected to argue that only the subsidiary should be held liable and that the cases should be heard in Nigeria, SPDC’s base and where the incidents took place…

But the communities and their lawyers say seeking justice in Nigeria won’t hold Shell responsible for the actions of its subsidiary and is extraordinarily difficult...“You cannot fight Shell in Nigeria,” the king of Ogale, Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, said in a phone interview. “Shell is Nigeria, Nigeria is Shell.

It is a point Shell has already contested in The Hague, where four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth successfully appealed a ruling that was largely in Shell’s favor in 2015, allowing them to pursue a case against the company in the Netherlands.

In 2015, the company said it experienced on average nine oil spills a month caused by sabotage or theft, with a handful of additional spills caused by operational issues. An uptick in violence this year has knocked important export terminals out of action for months at a time, though divestments onshore have helped reduce the overall number of spills Shell has recorded…

The company has already paid out £55 million, or roughly $80 million, to compensate another Niger Delta-based community in a settlement reached last year after they brought a separate lawsuit in London. In that instance, Shell admitted the spills were caused by operational failures.

Excerpts from Shell Fights Lawsuits Over Environmental Record in Nigeria, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 19, 2016

A Way of Life: Blowing Up Pipelines

image from http://www.nigerdeltaavengers.org/

Leaders from Nigeria’s Niger Delta called on President Muhammadu Buhari to pull the army out from the oil hub, order oil firms to move headquarters there and spend more on development to end militancy in the region.  Buhari met leaders from the southern swampland for the first time since militants started a wave of attacks on oil pipelines in January 2016 to push for a greater share of oil revenues.

At the meeting in the presidential villa in Abuja, Niger Delta leaders, joined by representatives of militant groups, gave Buhari a list of 16 demands to pacify the impoverished region where many say they do not benefit from the oil wealth…

The delegation leader said oil firms should move headquarters to the region so unemployed youths – who often work for militants – could get more jobs. Foreign firms active in Nigeria are often based in the commercial capital Lagos.  The Niger Delta leaders also asked for more funds for the development and an amnesty plan for former fighters which Buhari had planned to cut.

The attacks, which put four key export streams under force majeure, had led production to plunge to 1.37 million barrels per day in May, the lowest level since July 1988, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), from 2.2 million barrels in January 2016.

Nigeria agreed on a ceasefire with major militant groups in 2009 to end an earlier insurgency. But previously unknown groups have since taken up arms after authorities tried to arrest a former militant leader on corruption charges.  Under a 2009 amnesty, fighters who lay down arms receive training and employment. However, of the $300 million annual funding set aside for this, much ends up in the pockets of “generals” or officials, analysts say – an endemic problem in a country famous for graft.

Any ceasefire would be difficult to enforce as militants are splintered into small groups of angry, young unemployed men even their leaders struggle to control.

A major group, the Niger Delta Avengers, had initially declared a ceasefire in August 2016 but then claimed another attack in October 2016 .

Excerpts from Niger Delta leaders want army out, Reuters, Nov. 2, 2016

Showing their Claws-Ogoni versus Royal Dutch Shell

shell

The widow of a Nigerian activist is planning to sue Royal Dutch Shell in the Dutch courts alleging the oil company was complicit in the execution of her husband by the Nigerian military in 1995, court documents filed in the United States/Esther Kiobel has filed an application in New York to secure documents from Shell’s US lawyers, which she could use in the Dutch action.

The filings with the US District Court for the Southern District Court of New York said she planned to begin the action before the end of the year.“Ms. Kiobel will demonstrate that Shell encouraged, facilitated, and conspired with the Nigerian government to commit human rights violations against the Ogoni people,” a memorandum in the application filed last week said.
Kiobel previously took her lawsuit to the United States but the US Supreme Court ruled in 2013 the case could not be heard because the alleged activities took place outside the country.

In 2009 prior to that ruling Shell had agreed in the United States to pay $15.5 million to settle lawsuits related to other activists executed at the same time as Barinem Kiobel, including author and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.    [three separate lawsuits were brought by the family of Ken Saro-Wiwa].

The Nigerian military cracked down heavily on local opposition to oil production by a Shell joint venture in the Niger Delta in the early 1990s. Kiobel alleges that Shell provided support to the military in its crackdown.  A Dutch court ruled in December that Shell may be sued in the Netherlands for oil spills at its subsidiary in Nigeria, although it did not say Shell was responsible..

Excerpts from Shell faces possible Dutch lawsuit over Nigerian activist’s execution, Reuters, Oct. 18, 2016

The Niger Deltans 1992-2016

Niger Delta states of Nigeria. image from wikipedia

They call themselves the Niger Delta Avengers. Little is known about the new radical group that has claimed a series of pipeline bombings in Nigeria’s oil-producing region this year and evaded gunboats and soldiers trawling swamps and villages.  Their attacks have driven Nigerian oil output to near a 22-year low and, if the violence escalates into another insurgency in the restive area, it could cripple production in a country facing a growing economic crisis.

President Muhammadu Buhari has said he will crush the militants, but a wide-scale conflict could stretch security forces already battling a northern rebellion by hardline Sunni Muslim group Boko Haram.  Militancy has been rife over the past decade in the Delta, a southern region which is one of the country’s poorest areas despite generating 70 percent of state income.

Violence has increased sharply this year – most of it claimed by the “Avengers” – after Buhari scaled back an amnesty deal with rebel groups, which had ended a 2004-2009 insurgency.Under the deal, more state cash was channelled to the region for job training and militant groups were handed contracts to protect the pipelines they once bombed. But Buhari cut the budget allocated to the plan by about 70 percent and cancelled the contracts, citing corruption and mismanagement of funds.

The “Avengers” have carried out a string of attacks since February 2016… The group has emailed journalists a statement saying they were fighting for an independent Delta and would step up their attacks unless oil firms left the region within two weeks.”If at the end of the ultimatum you are still operating, we will blow up all the locations,” it said. “It will be bloody. So just shut down your operations and leave.””To international oil companies, this is just the beginning and you have not seen anything yet. We will make you suffer,” it said.

Authorities have no hard facts about the group – such as its size, bases or leadership…Diplomats and security experts say it has shown a level of sophistication not seen since the peak of the 2004-2009 insurgency, which halved Nigeria’s oil output. They say it must be getting help from sympathetic oil workers in identifying the pipelines to cause maximum damage….

In February 2016 the group claimed an attack on an undersea pipeline, forcing Shell to shut a 250,000 barrels a day Forcados terminal. In May 2016, it took credit for blasting a Chevron platform, shutting the Warri and Kaduna refineries…

Reuters, like other media, has been unable to reach the group, which mainly communicates via Twitter, with the location tracker switched off, and on its website.Its members describe themselves there as “young, well travelled” and mostly educated in eastern Europe.

Given the lack of intelligence about the militants, the army launched a wide-ranging hunt across the Delta this week, sending gunboats into mosquito-infested creeks and searching villages in the middle of the night. But some residents say such a heavy-handed military approach stokes dissent in the Delta where many complain of poverty despite sitting on much of Nigeria’s energy wealth. They say some villagers help militants to hide in the hard-to-access swamps….

Executives [oil firms in Nigeria] met Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in May 2016 and one of them warned the government was being “too direct and blunt” and needed to find some balance, according to a source familiar with the discussions….Many locals in the Christian south see Buhari, a Muslim northerner, as an oppressor.

Excerpts ‘Avengers’ threaten new insurgency in Nigeria’s oil-producing Delta, Reuters, May 16, 2016

According to their website: The Nigerian State is like the biblical Egypt, the Government of the Federation is like the Biblical Pharaohs, President Buhari is like the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses, the Niger Delta People are like the Jews while the Niger Delta Avengers is Moses. So all we are asking is let our people go (NIGER DELTANS).

See also UN on Ogoniland oil damage

Shell Nigeria and the Ogoni People

Nigeria

How to Squander a Country: Nigeria

Gates of Oil reifnery in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Image from wikipedia

Dead fish wash up on the once-fertile shores of creeks around Bodo, a town in the Niger delta, that are covered with crude oil more than six years after two massive spills. Locals have only now received compensation from Shell, the oil firm responsible for the leaks. For the first time in half a decade, fishermen have cash to start businesses, repair their houses and send children to school… “Look,” says the chief of a tiny town called B-Dere, just a few miles from Bodo. He gestures to the deathly-black banks still bearing the marks of the slicks. “There is nothing to drink, nowhere to fish. What good has come from it?”

The cash that the oil industry provides has greased Nigerian politics for decades. Gross mismanagement and corruption in the industry are the causes of much of the inequality and discontent with the ruling party in an economy that is not just Africa’s largest but that ought to also be one of its wealthiest…

Nigeria pumps something like 2m barrels of oil a day. These account for most of its exports and about 70% of government revenues. But official figures are as murky as its polluted creeks. Volumes are recorded only at export terminals rather than at the wellhead, says Celestine AkpoBari of the Port Harcourt-based advocacy group, Social Action. Were a proper tally kept, he says, corruption would be exposed on a scale that would shock even the most cynical Nigerian.

It seems likely that more than 100,000 barrels of crude are stolen (or “bunkered” in the local parlance) every day, at a cost to the state and investors of billions of dollars a year. Politicians, oil workers and security forces are said to be behind the complex cartels that steal, illegally refine and sell crude oil. They have amassed almost unimaginable wealth in a country where poverty is still rife.

Oil’s taint has seeped into almost all levels of government and business. Yet the central problem is found in the petroleum ministry, which wields vast unaccountable power. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), a state-owned behemoth, is responsible for all aspects of the industry, from exploration to production and regulation. It is among the most secretive oil groups in the world, and is “accountable to no one”, says Inemo Samiama, country head of the Stakeholder Democracy Network, a non-profit group.

In 2013 the former governor of the central bank, Lamido Sanusi, alleged that $20 billion in oil revenues was missing from state coffers. He was fired for his troubles soon after. …

Even where cash has not been nicked, it has often been squandered. Take the Excess Crude Account (ECA), a sovereign-wealth fund intended to cushion Nigeria’s budget against falling oil prices. Most of it was spent over the past two years, despite oil prices being relatively high for most of that period.

The industry itself is in as sorry a state as the government’s finances. Although oil practically gushes from the ground in parts of the delta, oil output has been stagnant for years and billions of dollars of investment are stalled because of uncertainty over a new law for the industry.  This is holding back Nigeria’s economy almost across the board. Because the industry has failed to build the infrastructure to pipe gas to domestic consumers such as power plants, much of it is simply flared and burned: Britain reckons that some $800m worth of Nigeria’s gas a year goes up in smoke. The country is also chronically short of fuel even though it has four state-owned oil refineries. Because of poor maintenance and ageing equipment they operate at well below capacity, forcing Nigeria to import about 70% of the fuel it needs. There is little incentive for reform since the government pays hefty subsidies to NNPC to keep on importing…

But a starting point should be to halt subsidies for fuel imports. At a stroke that would undercut a major source of corruption and crime (both on land and at sea) that spills into neighbouring countries, the destination for smuggled consignments of cheap Nigerian fuel. It should also take a close look at NNPC, which should not be allowed both to participate in the market and regulate it. Some of its assets could be privatised. The ruling party and opposition are considering both….

For communities in Ogoniland, the most pressing problem is cleaning up. Shell has promised to mop up the mess around Bodo, though the process has yet to start. Compensation is one thing, Bodo residents say, but what they really want is their livelihood back.

Nigeria’s oil: Crude politics, Economist,  Mar. 28, 2015, at 54

Suing Multinational Corporations in US Courts: Kiobel v. Shell

oil pollution

The Alien Tort Statute (ATS)… grants American district courts jurisdiction over “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or of a treaty of the United States”. At the age of 190 it sprang back to life on April 6th 1979, when it was used to allow two Paraguayans to sue a former Paraguayan policeman in an American court for acts of torture committed in Paraguay.Since then, roughly 150 lawsuits have been filed against American and foreign corporations for actions committed around the world. Four local plaintiffs used the ATS to sue Unocal in a federal court in Los Angeles for human-rights violations allegedly committed during the construction of an oil pipeline in Myanmar. A human-rights organisation used it to sue Yahoo on behalf of two Chinese democracy activists for actions committed in China by a subsidiary. ATS suits against DaimlerChrysler and Rio Tinto, among others, are pending. Though most ATS cases have been dismissed or settled, the costs of settlements can be high and the negative publicity damaging.

Multinational companies will therefore cheer the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell), released on April 17th, 2013. It dramatically limits the ability of plaintiffs to file suit against corporations in American courts for actions committed abroad.  The ruling stems from a case brought in New York by 12 Nigerian plaintiffs living in America. They allege that Shell was complicit in human-rights violations—including murder, rape, theft and destruction of property—committed by Nigeria’s armed forces in the region of Ogoniland. A federal appeals court dismissed their suit, arguing that the ATS provides no grounds for corporate-liability lawsuits. But as the 150 ATS suits show, other courts have disagreed. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in order to settle the question.

In an earlier ruling, in 2004, the court cautiously ruled that the ATS permitted lawsuits for “a modest number of international law violations”, such as piracy and crimes involving ambassadors, which would have been recognised when it was adopted. The court’s Kiobel ruling goes much further. It holds that the ATS does not apply to actions committed by foreign companies, and noted a strong presumption against applying American law outside the United States, “There is no indication,” wrote John Roberts, the chief justice, “that the ATS was passed to make the United States a uniquely hospitable forum for the enforcement of international norms”.  In a separate concurrence, four of the court’s liberals took a slightly softer tack, arguing that the ATS should allow suits that prevent America from becoming “a safe harbour…for a torturer or other common enemy of mankind”. But that reasoning still does not permit foreign nationals to use American courts to sue foreign companies for acts committed on foreign soil.

Extraterritoriality: The Shell game ends, Economist, Apr. 20, 2013, at 34

Shell Nigeria and the Ogoni People

Ogoniland.  Image from UN.org

On January 30th, 2013 a Dutch court ruled that Shell, Nigeria’s biggest oil producer, must compensate Friday Akpan, a farmer from the Delta region, for the pollution of his farmland and destruction of his livelihood. The ruling could open a flood-gate to legal complaints against oil companies.In 2008, five Nigerians, including Mr Akpan, filed suits in The Hague where Shell has its headquarters. The other four cases were dismissed; the court said Shell could not have prevented the spills involved. Environmental campaigners insist the company was negligent. Amnesty International says the dismissal highlights how difficult it is for Nigerians whose lives have been affected by oil pollution to get justice.

Court orders and regulatory fines are rarely enforced in Nigeria. According to a 2011 United Nations report on the Ogoniland region in the Niger Delta, restoring the area, much of which is covered in thick, black oil, could take up to 30 years. It would cost $1billion just to start the clean up. Little progress has been made since the report was published. Bad laws, lax regulation and corporate exploitation make environmental degradation even worse in Nigeria.

Shell says that nearly 26,000 barrels of its oil was spilt last year in 200 incidents in the Delta. Some 55 were the result of “operational mishaps,” including poor maintenance of facilities but 144 were caused by sabotage or people siphoning oil from pipelines. Oil theft is increasingly a cause of oil spills in the region. The illegal refining of stolen oil is common in the Niger Delta. But in a region with few jobs, poor health care and dire schools, it is little wonder people resort to refining stolen oil. For some, it is the only way left to make a living.

John Donovan, A mixed verdict, Economist, Feb 3rd, 2013

See also Oil Spills in Nigeria: Litigation

Oil Pollution and Human Rights Abuses

UN Report on Oil Damage