Shell Trumps Spill Response and Prevention Record in the Niger Delta


By Ikenna Omeje

Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) has stated that it recorded a significant reduction of breaches from wellheads and cleaned up more spill sites than ever before.

The energy company made this known in their 2020 Shell Nigeria Briefing, while pointing that in 2019, SPDC JV reduced operational spills to their lowest levels. It reported seven operational spills in 2019, representing a 46.6 percent decrease over the previous year (when it recorded 15 of such spills).

Data available showed that in the year under review, theft and sabotage resulted in 156 spills. In 2018, the figure was 109. As part of the company’s policy, when a leak is identified, the team responds to contain any spilled oil and clean up. In 2019, it remediated 130 sites.

Shell noted that SPDC JV  is working to eliminate spills from its operational activities, remediate past spills and prevent spills caused by crude oil theft, sabotage of pipelines or illegal oil refining. While SPDC operates to the same technical standards as other Shell companies globally, the company said illegal activities continue to inhibit a normal operating environment; noting that past spills from operational and illegal activities have been well documented, resulting in a clean-up programme and, where appropriate, compensation.

According to the company, there is still much work to be done to get the company to its target of ‘Goal Zero’ in all spills (operational and third-party vandalism). This can only be archived through a solid strategy, active partnerships, closer community engagements, bold security and new surveillance equipment, the company said it is steadily making progress in the areas of Improving performance; Preventing illegal activity; Response and investigation; Improving remediation; and Clean-up in Ogoniland.

In the area of improving performance, Shell has a global ambition to achieve no harm and no leaks across all its operations. This is known as Goal Zero. To reduce the number of operational spills in Nigeria, Shell said the SPDC JV is focused on implementing its ongoing work programme to appraise, maintain and replace key sections of pipelines and flow lines. In 2019, SPDC completed another 30 kilometres of new pipelines, bringing the total laid over the last eight years to around 1,330 kilometres.

“These efforts have significantly reduced operational spills over 100 kilograms to seven incidents and 28 tonnes of crude in 2019, compared to 15 incidents and 413 tonnes in 2018. This represents a year-on-year reduction of more than 90 percent by volume, returning the joint venture to its trend of reducing operational spills.

“Community engagement and the ongoing commitment from government agencies has also helped shorten response times to incidents. SPDC’s average time to complete the clean-up of free and/or residual spilled oil has halved from 13 days in 2016 to seven days in 2019. Closer engagement with communities has helped SPDC to access spill locations more quickly, meaning on average that joint investigations now commence within three days in 2019 compared to six days in 2016,” it stated.  

Shell Nigeria however, indicated that there still remains a challenge of preventing spills relating to sabotage and theft by third parties. These illegal activities accounted for 95 percent of the SPDC JV spill incidents in 2019, a similar proportion to previous years.

“In 2019, there were 156 theft and sabotage-related spills over 100 kilograms, up from 109 in 2018. This is due to factors such as increased availability of production facilities after a major export line repair in 2017, crude theft activities in an election year when government security agents can be reassigned, and the price of crude oil and refined products that is seen as an opportunity for illegal refining. Despite preventive efforts, spilled volumes from illegal activities increased to around 2,000 tonnes of crude in 2019, compared with around 1,600 tonnes in 2018,” it said.

On response and investigation, the company said upon identifying a leak, production is suspended, and efforts are made to contain any spilled oil. It said regular tests on emergency spill response procedures and capability is carried out in order to ensure staff and contractors can respond rapidly to an incident.

Additionally, in line with government regulations, a Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) team visits the spill site to establish the cause and volume of oil spilled.

In the area of improving remediation, the SPDC JV has continued to identify and remediate legacy spill locations. In 2019 alone, 130 sites were remediated and 123 certified by Nigerian government regulators, compared to 116 certified and 45 remediated in 2018.

Also in 2019, SPDC and IUCN joined forces on the Niger Delta Biodiversity Technical Advisory Group, which includes representatives from the Nigerian Conservation Foundation and Wetlands International. The groups work together to monitor biodiversity recovery of remediated sites. Four sites have been assessed and selected as pilot sites for monitoring. These sites represent three ecosystems in the Niger Delta: land, seasonal swamp and swamp.

On efforts made towards preventing illegal activities, Shell said the SPDC JV is committed to minimising the impact of third-party incidents and spills. The company works with government agencies, non-governmental organisations and communities to proactively minimise spills from illegal activity.

This work includes: Using simplified zonal pipeline maps to enhance targeted response to third-party interference and prevent incidents from occurring. Since 2017, SPDC has also been able to remove more than 523 illegal theft points. Illegal theft points are identified by daily inspections from the air and on the ground.

The company has also implemented anti-theft protection mechanisms, such as anti-tamper locks and steel cages for wellheads. Around 301 cages have been installed so far and around 80 more are planned for 2020 that will all come with CCTV technology. In 2019, three breaches of the cages were recorded out of 300 attempts. As a result, wellhead-related losses significantly dropped from about 30 kb/d in 2016 to less than 1 kb/d in 2019 across all SPDC operations.

SPDC has also implemented several initiatives and partnerships to raise awareness of the negative impact of crude oil theft and illegal oil refining. Examples include community-based pipeline surveillance, radio jingles and the promotion of alternative livelihoods through Shell’s youth entrepreneurship programme, Shell LiveWIRE.

On Ogoniland Clean Up, Shell said SPDC JV is working with the relevant stakeholders to implement the 2011 United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Report on Ogoniland.

Over the last eight years, the company has taken action on all, and completed most, of the UNEP recommendations addressed specifically to it as operator of the joint venture.

The UNEP report recommended the creation of an Ogoni Trust Fund with $1 billion capital to be co-funded by the Nigerian government, the SPDC JV and other operators in the area.

In its commitment to contributing its share of $900 million over five years to the fund, SPDC made $10 million available in 2017 to help set up the Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project (HYPREP), an agency established by the federal government to lead the clean-up effort. In 2018, the SPDC JV deposited a further $170 million into the escrow account to fund HYPREP’s activities, to complete its first-year contribution of $180 million. In 2019, the JV contributed the next tranche of $180 million, bringing the total contribution made to $360 million which represents the full amount due for the two years.

SPDC has continued to work with the Bodo community and others to clean up areas affected by two operational spills in 2008. A memorandum of understanding granting SPDC access to begin the clean-up was signed in 2015 and two contractors were selected to conduct the clean-up, overseen by an independent project director. The clean-up consists of three phases; removal of free phase surface oil, remediation of soil and planting of mangroves and monitoring. The removal of surface oil started in September 2017 and was completed in August 2018. Field remediation activities started in November 2019 following a contract procurement process to select remediation contractors.

800 community workers have been medically checked, assessed for their swimming ability to ensure they can safely respond to incidents in rivers and creeks, and trained to International Maritime Organisation oil spill response Levels one and two. Remediation is expected to take around 18 months. Shell said the clean-up will only be successful if the repeated re-contamination of cleaned-up sites from illegal third-party activity stops.

In response to UNDP recommendations, SPDC has re-assessed 15 SPDC JV sites mentioned in the UNEP report and remediated further where required with the sites certified by government regulators; completed an inventory and physical verification of assets for decommissioning and working with joint venture partners and the FGN to develop a decommissioning plan for these assets; completed a comprehensive review of its oil spill response and remediation techniques and made a number of improvements in line with industry best practices;  collaborated with the Rivers State Government to deliver water to impacted communities and built water facilities, which are expected to be upgraded as part of HYPREP’s planned activities; and trained contractors on clean-up and remediation techniques and assigned specialist supervisors to a number of project sites to ensure effective oversight and compliance.

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