The Nigerian oil spills we want investigated

Shell photograph

This is the first of a series of blog posts detailing research that was first published on 16 March 2018 in the Amnesty International report Negligence in the Niger Delta. The report presented the findings of a unique investigation into the operational practices of the oil industry in the Niger Delta, and was the result of hundreds of hours of work by more than 3,500 Amnesty International supporters and activists, based in 142 different countries. They took part in Decode Oil Spills, an online project for crowd-sourcing research.

The Niger Delta suffers from an epidemic of oil spills. Every year hundreds damage the environment and devastate the lives of people living there. The organization that I work for, Amnesty International, is concerned that in spite of this, many local communities are not receiving compensation for the appalling damage that is being done.

That’s why we have written to the Nigerian government, asking it to urgently investigate 89 individual oil spills, as we think the affected communities may have been wrongfully denied compensation.

This is based on our analysis of thousands of oil spill investigation forms and photographs that the multinational corporations, Shell and Eni, have published in relation to their operations in the Niger Delta.

The key to whether a community is compensated or not is what caused the spill. There are a variety of possibilities; many are caused by corrosion to the pipelines or other faults relating to poor maintenance. In these cases, the companies pay compensation to the communities.

Yet other spills are caused by oil thieves, armed militant gangs, or people who intentionally create spills in order to receive money as the contractor hired for the clean-up. In these cases, the communities receive nothing, even if their land or fisheries are destroyed and they had nothing to do the attack on the pipeline.

The oil companies blame the majority of spills on this “third party interference.” They make these assessments based on “Joint Investigation Visits” (JIVs) that must, according to Nigerian law, take place soon after every spill. These investigation visits involve representatives of the government and communities as well as the relevant oil company, so that, in theory, all stakeholders can come to a shared understanding of the key facts.

Amnesty International has previously exposed serious flaws in how these investigations operate. Now thanks to Amnesty’s Decoders project we’ve been able to review a massive amount of data reported by the Anglo-Dutch company Shell since 2011 and by Italy’s Eni since 2014.

As a result of this analysis, we have identified at least 89 spills, which the companies blamed on “third party interference”, but about which we think there are reasonable doubts on the basis that the photographs do not clearly support the company claims. Of the 89, 46 are from Shell and 43 are from Eni. If confirmed, this could mean that dozens of affected communities have not received the compensation that they deserve.

We have sent the list of these spills to the Nigerian government and requested it to investigate them. If they find that any have indeed been wrongly labelled, they should immediately ensure that the community receives fair compensation.

Here are the details of ten of the spills, where we believe that the photographs either do not support, or in fact contradict, the company claim that the spill was caused by third party interference. The details were reviewed by an independent US-based pipelines security expert Accufacts Inc, whose comments are provided.

1. Shell spill on its 24'’ Nkpoku — Bomu Pipeline at Biara (2011)

Shell reported on 10 June 2011 that 195 barrels of oil were lost, after the pipeline was cut by a hacksaw.

Shell photograph

Following an analysis of the available evidence, independent pipeline expert Accufacts stated that the photograph did not support the company’s assertion that the spill was caused by a cut: “The accompanying photo does not support JIV report assertions of hacksaw cut, sabotage, or third party interference. Ironic that more detailed close-up photos to verify sabotage assertion have not been provided.”

2. Eni spill on the “8'’ Nimbe South-Obama flowline” (2014)

On four occasions, Eni reported that spills were caused by what it termed “induced corrosion,” without explaining what this meant. One of spills these occurred on on 12 March 2014.

Eni photograph

According to Accufacts, the photograph was not clear and therefore did not support the company’s claim:

“The JIV report claim of ‘induced corrosion’ is not supported by the photo. There is clearly evidence of external corrosion but there is insufficient evidence to support the claim of ‘induced corrosion’ which has a very specific meaning within the industry, though not defined in regulation. The use of ‘induced’ appears to be an attempt to miss-convey inaccurate or misleading cause, suggesting manipulation of the investigation.”

3. Shell spill on its“4'’ Obele-Ibaa Delivery Line” at Ibaa/Omueze (2015)

Shell reported that this spill on 14 April 2015 in which 87 barrels were reportedly lost, was caused by a hacksaw cut.

Shell photograph
After reviewing the photo, Accufacts noted that it, “does not provide evidence to verify claim of sabotage from hacksaw cut as indicated in the JIV report. Looks more like a corrosion leak, but photo is strangely not sufficient in close-up to properly verify, especially the asserted hacksaw cut.”

4. Shell spill at Ubie Well 9S flowline at Idu/Edrass (2012)

Shell photograph

Shell reported this spill on 26 January 2012 and stated it was caused by a hacksaw cut. According to Accufacts, Shell provided an, “inadequate photo to support the claim of third party interference, especially claims of hacksaw. This is also odd given the pipeline was not leaking at time of photo and that coating had also been removed to permit a better close-up examination of the exterior of the pipe at failure site.”

5. Shell spill at 10" Diebu Creek-Nun River Pipeline at Onyoma (2014)

Shell photograph

Shell reported that the spill was caused by sabotage. It conducted a JIV on 3 July 2014. This was a large spill; Shell said that 367 barrels were spilled. According to Accufacts, the photograph accompanying the JIV does not “support assertions of sabotage from drill hole… My experience would suggest this is a corrosion failure associated with pitting failure, not a drilled hole.” In addition, Accufacts questioned why Shell did not produce “better pictures that might actual show sabotage if this really was the case.”

6. ENI spill at 24'’ Ogoda/Brass Pipeline (2015)

Eni photograph

Eni reported the spill on 4 April 2015, stating that it had been caused by “third party interference,” and drilling into the underside of the pipeline. One barrel was reportedly spilled. According to Accufacts, the “assertion of drilled hole in 5 o’clock position cannot be verified from photograph provided. Not likely a drilled hole given photo evidence provided to date.”

7. Eni spill at Taylor Creek 2Ls flowline (2015)

Eni photograph

Eni reported the spill on 13 November 2015 and said it was caused by a hacksaw cut. Eni stated that 515 barrels were spilled as a result. According to Accufacts’ assessment of the supporting photograph: “This is a very poor photo to support claim of third party interference, especially claims of hacksaw. This is especially strange given the pipeline was not leaking at time of photo and that coating had been clearly removed to permit better close-up photos of the exterior of the pipe at failure site.”

8. ENI spill at Obiafu 26Ss flowline (2016)

Eni photograph

Eni reported the spill on 26 August 2016, and that the leak point was a drill hole caused by “third party interference” and resulted in the loss of three barrels. Accufacts once again doubted that the accompanying photographs supported these claims. It concluded that Eni “appear to be misusing the term ‘drill hole’ in JIV as cause to bias or imply sabotage when photo of pipe does not support this conclusion. Again very odd that better photos at the leak site have not been provided when sabotage is claimed for pipe release.”

9. ENI spill at 6'’ Tuomo/Ogboinbiri delivery gas line (2016)

Eni photograph

This spill was reported on 6 October 2016. Eni reported that the leak point was a drill hole caused by “third party interference” and resulted in the loss of five barrels. However the JIV also noted that the local community representatives did not agree that this was the cause and stated that “the JIV was inconclusive.” According the Accufacts, the photographs once again do not support the company’s assessment that the spill was caused by drilling: “Poor photo quality at/near weld does not support conclusion of a drilled hole in the 6 o’clock position as reported on JIV report. Could be just external corrosion and/or poor weld at joint leak site.”

10. ENI spill at Obiafu 26Ss flowline (2016)

Eni photograph

Eni reported another spill on the Obiafu 26Ss flowline (see above) on 2 November 2016. It also assessed that the leak point was a drill hole caused by “third party interference” and reported that three barrels were lost. Accufacts’ assessment is that the photograph does not support the conclusion on cause: “photo clearly indicates extensive external corrosion and that the holes are not drilled as reported on JIV report.”


The evidence presented above raises serious doubts about the accuracy and credibility of Shell and Eni claims relating to the cause of a number of oil spills. In each instance, Amnesty International believes that companies may well have recorded spills as being caused by sabotage or theft when in fact their operations were at fault. This is important because the inaccurate labelling of spills would result in communities not receiving compensation. They also allow the companies to play down the number of spills caused by their own operational errors.

Shell and Eni have both denied this.

For further information, and to see the company replies, see our full report.