Tag Archives: Shell oil pollution

6,000 km Pipelines, How Many Lawsuits against Shell, Nigeria

shell company logo--always a Shell, image from wikipedia

A Dutch appeals court ruled on December 18, 2015 that Royal Dutch Shell can be held liable for oil spills at its subsidiary in Nigeria, potentially opening the way for other compensation claims against the multinational. Judges in The Hague ordered Shell to make available to the court documents that might shed light on the cause of the oil spills and whether leading managers were aware of them.  This ruling overturned a 2013 finding by a lower Dutch court that Shell’s Dutch-based parent company could not be held liable for spills at its Nigerian subsidiary.

The legal dispute dates back to 2008, when four Nigerian farmers and the campaign group Friends of the Earth filed a suit against the oil company in the Netherlands, where its global headquarters is based.  “Shell can be taken to court in the Netherlands for the effects of the oil spills,” the court ruling stated on Friday. “Shell is also ordered to provide access to documents that could shed more light on the cause of the leaks.”  The case will continue to be heard in March 2016.  Judge Hans van der Klooster said the court had found that it “has jurisdiction in the case against Shell and its subsidiary in Nigeria”….

“There are 6,000km of Shell pipelines and thousands of people living along them in the Niger Delta,” he said. “Other people in Nigeria can bring cases and that could be tens of billions of euros in damages.”  In a separate case, Shell agreed in January to pay out £55m ($82 million) in out-of-court compensation for two oil spills in Nigeria in 2008, after agreeing a settlement with the affected community in the Delta.

Excerpt from Dutch appeals court says Shell may be held liable for oil spills in Nigeria, Guardian, Dec. 18, 2015.

Shell in Nigeria: the Attitude

Shell and the Nigerian Government

Shell Gives Bad Information on Oil Spills in Nigeria

Shell Logo

At Amnesty International and CEHRD’s request, the independent US oil pipeline specialist Accufacts assessed a number of oil spill investigation reports, as well as responses from oil companies operating in the Niger Delta and Nigeria’s national oil spill agency.  The expert found cases where the stated cause of an oil spill appears to be wrongly attributed to sabotage [by the local population]. In many other cases sabotage was listed as the cause when there was little or no data recorded to back up the claim.  [report in pdf]

Overall, Accufacts concluded that many official investigation reports were “technically incomplete”, and others “appear to be serving another agenda, more driven by politics…than pipeline forensic science”.  Nigeria’s under-resourced regulatory agencies have little oversight or control of the process and are dependent on the oil companies to carry out investigations.

In one incident, a regulator sent a student on work experience as their sole representative to an oil spill investigation.  “This is a system that is wide open to abuse – and abuse happens. There is no one to challenge the oil companies and almost no way to independently verify what they say. In effect it’s ‘trust us – we’re big oil,” said Gaughran.

Shell has made some improvements to its investigation reports since 2011, including the addition of images of oil spills on its corporate website. But serious flaws remain, including weaknesses in the underlying evidence used to attribute spills to sabotage.  Information listed in oil spill investigation reports determines whether oil companies are liable to pay compensation to affected communities.  Despite serious flaws, the reports are cited as evidence in litigation.

Amnesty International and CEHRD found evidence of Shell having changed the officially recorded cause of a spill after an investigation had taken place. In one incident, secretly filmed video of an investigation shows how officials from Shell and the regulator tried to subvert the evidence by persuading community members on the investigation team not to attribute the cause to equipment failure. Video footage of a leak from an oil spill in Bodo from 2008 reviewed by Accufacts shows that Shell seriously under-recorded the volume spilled.  Shell’s official investigation report claims only 1,640 barrels of oil were spilled in total but other evidence points to the amount being at least 60 times higher…

The report argues that companies should be legally liable for failure to take effective action to protect their systems, including from sabotage.

Amnesty International and CEHRD are calling on the oil companies to publish all investigation reports, associated photos and videos. They must provide verifiable evidence of the cause and damage to the impacted area.

Shell’s false claims on Niger Delta oil spills exposed, Amnesty International Press Release, Nov. 7, 2013

Why Shell Violates the Law: Arctic Pollution

shell stock

Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) agreed to pay $1.1 million for violating permits regulating air pollution from its oil-exploration fleet in the Arctic Ocean last year.  The settlement announced by the US Environmental Protection Agency said that vessels scouting for oil in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas for two months in 2012 didn’t use all mandated pollution-control or monitoring equipment. The EPA had set the requirements as a condition for issuing a permit for Shell’s Arctic exploration.

“Based on EPA’s inspections and Shell’s excess emission reports, EPA documented numerous air permit violations for Shell’s Discoverer and Kulluk drill ship fleets,” the agency’s Seattle office said in a statement late yesterday. Shell suspended its Arctic operations after a series of mishaps in 2012 as it sought oil off Alaska’s North Coast. In December, the drill ship Kulluk broke free of a tow boat in a storm and was stranded on an uninhabited Alaska island. In September, a containment dome designed to cap spills had difficulty getting certified and was damaged during tests.

The air permit violations are a separate from the failed tow and containment device. The fines are $710,000 related to the Discoverer and $390,000 for the Kulluk, the EPA said.

Excerpt, Mark Drajem, Shell to Pay U.S. $1.1 Million for Arctic Air Pollution, Bloomberg, Sept 6, 2013

See also The Arctic Challenger

The Arctic Challenger: who is ready for an Arctic oil spill

Shell Oil has been building and testing equipment designed for the Arctic Ocean in Puget Sound, Seattle, United States.  In September, a key test of underwater oil-spill equipment was a spectacular failure.  It forced the energy giant to postpone drilling into oil-bearing rocks beneath the Arctic Ocean until next summer. Shell and its federal regulators have been tight-lipped about the failed test.  But a freedom-of-information request reveals what happened beneath the surface of Puget Sound.

Before Shell can drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, it needs to prove to federal officials that it can clean up a massive oil spill there. That proof hinges on a barge being built in Bellingham called the Arctic Challenger.  The barge is only one component of Shell’s plans for handling oil spills off the remote north coast of Alaska. But the Obama Administration won’t let oil drilling get under way until the 36-year-old barge and its brand new oil-spill equipment are in place,  On board the Arctic Challenger is a massive steel “containment dome.” It’s a sort of giant underwater vacuum cleaner. If efforts to cap a blown-out well don’t work, the dome can capture spewing oil and funnel it to a tanker on the surface.

The Arctic Challenger passed several US Coast Guard tests for seaworthiness in September. But it was a different story when its oil-spill containment system was put to the test in 150-foot-deep water near Anacortes, Washington.  The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement required the test of the oil-spill system.

According to BSEE internal emails obtained by KUOW, the containment dome test was supposed to take about a day. That estimate proved to be wildly optimistic.

•Day 1: The Arctic Challenger’s massive steel dome comes unhooked from some of the winches used to maneuver it underwater. The crew has to recover it and repair it.

•Day 2: A remote-controlled submarine gets tangled in some anchor lines. It takes divers about 24 hours to rescue the submarine.

•Day 5: The test has its worst accident. On that dead-calm Friday night, Mark Fesmire, the head of BSEE’s Alaska office, is on board the Challenger. He’s watching the underwater video feed from the remote-control submarine when, a little after midnight, the video screen suddenly fills with bubbles. The 20-foot-tall containment dome then shoots to the surface. The massive white dome “breached like a whale,” Fesmire e-mails a colleague at BSEE headquarters.

Then the dome sinks more than 120 feet. A safety buoy, basically a giant balloon, catches it before it hits bottom. About 12 hours later, the crew of the Challenger manages to get the dome back to the surface. “As bad as I thought,” Fesmire writes his BSEE colleague. “Basically the top half is crushed like a beer can.”

Representatives of Shell Oil and of BSEE declined to answer questions or allow interviews about the mishaps. In an email, Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh writes:  Our internal investigation determined the Arctic Challenger’s dome was damaged when it descended too quickly due to a faulty electrical connection, which improperly opened a valve. While safety systems ensured it did not hit the bottom, buoyancy chambers were damaged from the sudden pressure change.

Environmental groups say the Arctic Challenger’s multiple problems show that Shell isn’t prepared for an Arctic oil spill.

Excerpt, By John Ryan, Sea Trial Leaves Shell’s Arctic Oil-Spill Gear “Crushed Like A Beer Can”, Kuow.org. Nov. 30, 2012

Chronic Oil Pollution, an effective lawsuit against Shell?

A village in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta where observers found a drinking-water well polluted with benzene 900 times the international limit has sued Royal Dutch Shell PLC for $1 billion in a U.S. federal court.  The lawsuit alleges that Shell, long the dominant oil company over Nigeria’s more than 50 years of production, acted willfully negligent in pursuing profits over protecting the nation’s Niger Delta.mm The lawsuit filed by lawyers in Detroit uses a recent United Nations report over widespread pollution in the delta’s Ogoniland area for much of its evidence. However, that report implied Nigeria’s state-run oil company, rather than Shell, was responsible for recent damage in village of Ogale in Nigeria’s Rivers state.  “It is not isolated or accidental, but part of a culture and ongoing pattern of conduct that consistently and repeatedly ignored risks to others in favor of financial advantage,” the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan reads.  Some environmentalists say as much as 550 million gallons of oil have poured into the Niger Delta during 50 years of production — at a rate roughly comparable to one Exxon Valdez disaster per year. Even today, oil laps up in brackish delta creeks in Ogoniland, creating a black ring around the coastlines.

Ogale was one of the first operational oil fields discovered in Nigeria, where the nation’s first shipment of 22,000 barrels of crude oil exported to Europe came from, the lawsuit said. In the time since, the village suffered from the pollution of oil exploration, putting villagers at risk, the suit said.  A U.N. report released in August highlighted the plight of the village, describing how investigators found about 3 inches (8 centimeters) of refined oil floating on the surface of groundwater that serves the community’s wells. It also described finding high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, in the water.  Though Shell abandoned production in Ogoniland in 1993 following civil unrest, miles of aging pipelines and flow stations sit in the area. However, the U.N. report said that a pipeline abandoned in 2008 by the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. lies near Ogale and showed signs that a large amount of oil spilled from it.

Lawyers filed the U.S. lawsuit on behalf of the villagers in Nigeria using the 222-year-old Alien Tort Statute, a law increasingly used in recent years to sue corporations for alleged abuses abroad. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it will use a separate lawsuit between Nigerian villagers and Shell to decide whether corporations may be held liable in U.S. courts for alleged human rights abuses overseas under the law.  Shell has been sued in the past in the U.S. over its Nigerian operations. In June 2009, it agreed to a $15.5 million settlement to end a lawsuit alleging that the oil giant was complicit in the executions of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and other civilians by Nigeria’s former military regime.

Nigeria village cited by UN for chronic oil-spill damage sues Royal Dutch Shell for $1B in US, Associated Press, Oct. 21, 2011