Shell’s Remarkable Achievements in Spill Response, Prevention in Nigeria

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Shell Petroleum Development Company said it recorded a significant reduction in operational spills arising from breached wellheads and cleaned up more spill sites than ever before in 2019.

In its 2020 “Nigerian Briefing Notes” the multinational oil company hinted that in 2019, the SPDC JV reduced operational spills to their lowest levels.

Significant Reduction in Operational Spills

The energy company reported seven operational spills in 2019, a 46.6 percent decrease over the previous year when it recorded 15 such spills.

Available data showed that in 2019, theft and sabotage resulted in 156 spills, however, in 2018, the figure was 109.

The remarkable result attained during the year under review can be attributed to Shell’s strategy, quick response, active partnerships, and broad-based collaboration involving host communities, government, regulatory agencies and other relevant stakeholders.

The SPDC JV has a policy that when a leak is identified, the team responds to contain any spilled oil and clean up. In 2019, SPDC JV remediated 130 sites.

The SPDC JV has continued to work hard towards eliminating spills from its operational activities, remediate past spills and prevent spills caused by crude oil theft, sabotage of pipelines or illegal oil refining.

However, the energy company, noted that while SPDC operates to the same technical standards as other Shell companies globally, illegal activities continue to inhibit a normal operating environment.

It hinted that past spills from operational and illegal activities have been well documented, resulting in a clean-up programme and, where appropriate, compensation.

“There is still much work to do to get the company to its target of Goal Zero in all spills (operational and third-party vandalism).

“But through a solid strategy, active partnerships, closer community engagements, bold security and new surveillance equipment, the company is steadily making good progress. This progress are in the following areas: improving performance, preventing illegal activity, response and investigation, improving remediation and clean-up in Ogoniland.”

Improving Performance

Through its GoalZero Initiative, Shell pursues a global agenda of “no harm and no leaks” across all is operations.  With this, Shell targets to reduce the number of operational spills in Nigeria. Essentially, 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% by volume, returning the joint venture to its trend of reducing operational spills, the report stated.

Continuing, it stated that “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.”


Despite recording significant reduction in operational spills, the energy company noted that the challenge of preventing spills relating to sabotage and theft by third parties remains. These illegal activities it said accounted for 95% 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.”

Spills: Response and Investigation

According to Shell, production is suspended once a leak is identified, just as efforts are made to contain any spilled oil. “We regularly test our emergency spill response procedures and capability to ensure staff and contractors can respond rapidly to an incident.”

“In addition to responding to recent spill incidents, the SPDC JV continues to identify and remediate legacy spill locations. In 2019, 130 sites were remediated and 123 certified by Nigerian government regulators, compared to 116 certified and 45 remediated in 2018.

“Regardless of the cause, SPDC cleans up and remediates areas impacted by spills that come from its operations. In the case of operational spills, SPDC also pays compensation to communities impacted by the spill. Once the clean-up and remediation are completed, the work is inspected and, if satisfactory, approved and certified by Nigerian government regulators.”

Continuing, it stated that SPDC works with a range of stakeholders in the Niger Delta to build greater trust in spill response and clean-up processes. “Local communities take part in the remediation work for operational spills.

“In 2019, SPDC and IUCN joined forces on the Niger Delta Biodiversity Technical Advisory Group, which also includes representatives from the Nigerian Conservation Foundation and Wetlands International. The groups will continue to work together to monitor biodiversity recovery of remediated sites.”

Remediation Techniques

SPDC said its remediation practices are compliant with the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria (EGASPIN). The techniques adopted are believed to be the most effective for the soil and climate conditions in the equatorial heat of the Niger Delta.

“Bioremediation using land farming techniques is recognised internationally and often advocated by regulators such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Environment Agency in the UK. It aims to restore the land to conditions acceptable to human health and the environment.”

Preventing Illegal Activities

In the area of preventing illegal activities, Shell stated that it remained 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 it does using different strategies which includes: Using simplified zonal pipeline maps to enhance targeted response to third-party interference and prevent incidents from occurring.

It disclosed that since 2017, SPDC has also been able to remove more than 523 illegal theft points. Adding that 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 willall come with CCTV technology.

“In2019, three breaches of the cages were recorded out of 300 attempts. As a result, wellhead-related losses significantly dropped from about30 kb/d in 2016 to less than 1 kb/din 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.

Clean Up in Ogoniland

SPDC is working with the relevant stakeholders to implement the 2011 United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Report on Ogoniland.

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

One of such recommendation is 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.

“The SPDC JV remains fully committed to contributing its share of $900 million over five years to the fund and 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.

“The SPDC JV in2019 contributed the next tranche of $180 million. At the end of 2019, the total contribution made was $360 million which represents the full amount due for the two years.”

It stated it SPDC has continued to work with the Bodo community and others to clean up areas affected by two operational spills in 2008.

“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 2017and was completed in August 2018, while 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. The clean-up will only be successful if the repeated re-contamination of cleaned-up sites from illegal third-party activity stops.”

Actions on UNEP Recommendations

Since 2011, SPDC has taken action on all the recommendations addressed specifically to it as operator, it stated. This includes the re-assessment of 15 SPDC JV sites mentioned in the UNEP report and remediated further where required with the sites certified by government regulators; the completion of 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.

This is in addition to the completion 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 partof HYPREP’s planned activities, among others.

By Peace Obi

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