Timeline: Half a century of oil spills in Nigeria's Ogoni country

Timeline: Half a century of oil spills in Nigeria’s Ogoni country

In the oil-rich Niger Delta region of southern Nigeria, residents have been concerned about the health and environmental impacts of crude oil spills that have occurred since oil was discovered there in 1958.

The epicenter of this has been Ogoniland, 261 communities spread over nearly 1,000 km2 (385 sq mi).

Between 1976 and 1991, more than two million barrels of oil polluted Ogoniland in 2,976 separate oil spills, with Nigeria becoming one of the largest oil producers in the world.

In 2020 and 2021, the Nigerian National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) recorded 822 oil spills combined, totaling 28,003 barrels of oil spilled into the environment.

Those dependent on agriculture and fishing have felt a direct impact on their livelihoods and residents have reported a myriad of health issues.

Life expectancy in the Niger Delta is 41 years, 10 years less than the national average.

Oil spills in the Niger Delta

Below is a timeline of oil spills and related activities in Ogoniland from 1958 to the present.

1958

Oil is discovered in commercial quantities in Ogoniland. Shell begins operations.

1970

An oil spill, possibly the first documented, occurs in the community of Boobanabe following a fire at Shell’s Bomu oil well.

1990

Ogoni leaders, including environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, form the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), a nonpartisan organization to end the exploitation of the Ogoni by oil companies and the government.

1993

Due to increasing local and international protests, Shell is suspending production in Ogoniland. It hasn’t pumped oil from most of its wells since, but its pipelines still run through Ogoniland, leaking oil.

January 4, 1993

Around 300,000 Ogonis are peacefully protesting against Shell and oil pollution. Later that year, Shell requested military support to build a pipeline through Ogoniland.

November 10, 1995

Despite international pleas for clemency, the Nigerian military government executes Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni human rights activists for the murder of four Ogoni elders.

A man walks past an Amnesty International portrait of Nigerian author Ken Saro Wiwa
A man walks past an Amnesty International portrait of Nigerian author Ken Saro Wiwa in Edinburgh as Commonwealth heads of government begin their meetings October 24, 1997. (Reuters)

April 26, 2001

A spill occurs in the Yorla community which lasts until May 7, 2001. It starts a fire which consumes crops of commercial food and medicinal herbs.

February 2003

An explosion at Shell’s abandoned Yorla oilfield causes another major oil spill.

April 2006

The Ogoni report an oil spill from a damaged pipeline owned by Shell.

August 28, 2008

The first of two massive oil spills occurs in the community of Bodo due to a failure of the Trans-Niger pipeline. The escape lasts at least four weeks. Shell claims 1,640 barrels of oil were spilled, but experts estimate the leak to be almost three times that – up to 4,000 barrels.

December 7, 2008

A second spill occurs in the community of Bodo.

February 2009

Ten weeks after the second Bodo spill, between February 19 and 21, Nigerian NOSDRA, Shell and the Bodo community are conducting a joint fact-finding visit. Subsequently, Shell claims the spill was caused by equipment failure due to natural corrosion.

April 12, 2009

A fire and a spill at the Bomu collector cause oil to flow into the swamp. The collector is a junction where several Shell pipelines join at Kegbara Dere, Ogoniland. The fire burns for 36 hours.

November 30, 2009

At the request of the Nigerian government, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is launching an assessment of the impact of oil contamination in the Ogoni region.

August 2011

UNEP publishes a report on the environmental impact of oil industry operations in Ogoniland, showing widespread contamination of soil and groundwater and recommending a thorough clean-up of affected areas.

August 2011

After a class action lawsuit in the UK, Shell accepts responsibility for the double rupture of the Bodo-Bonny Trans-Niger pipeline which caused two massive oil spills in Bodo. The Trans-Niger transports up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day through the community.

May 7, 2012

A spill occurs at Kegbara-Dere, about 200 meters (650 feet) from the Bomu collector.

February 1, 2013

The Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology meets with Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) regarding environmental degradation in Ogoniland.

June 2013

An explosion occurs in a Shell oil pipeline, spilling 6,000 barrels of crude oil into creeks and waterways in Bodo. The Ogoni people pledge not to allow oil exploration to resume in the region until the conditions to address the challenges of environmental pollution are met.

November 13, 2014

As Amnesty International has revealed, court documents show that Shell repeatedly made false claims about the scale and impact of the two Bodo oil spills in 2008.

November 3, 2015

Forty-five years after an oil spill at Bomu, researchers find blackened soil and layers of oil on the water despite Shell’s claims that Shell remediated the site twice in 1975 and 2012.

June 2, 2016

Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo launches the cleanup of the Ogoni, alongside UN Under-Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, the country’s then environment minister.

March 25, 2017

Shell agrees to clean up Bodo, which was hit by two spills in 2008.

July 26, 2017

The UN pledges to continue to support the execution of the Ogoni Cleansing.

July 3, 2018

MOSOP opposes the SPDC’s request for the renewal of its oil exploitation permit in Ogoniland.

January 2019

Sanitation sites in Eleme, Tai, Khana and Gokana local government areas of Ogoni are being handed over to 21 contractors.

April 18, 2019

Two oil spills kill two people in the community of Kegbara-Dere, according to local newspaper The Sun.

May 5, 2019

An investigation by local newspaper Premium Times alleges that unqualified companies have been awarded Ogoni cleaning contracts.

October 25, 2021

Contractors tasked with cleaning up the Bodo community in Ogoniland said 2 million liters (440,000 gallons) of crude oil had been recovered in the current exercise by SPDC in the area.

July 5, 2022

A parliamentary committee summons Environment Minister Mohammed Abdullahi and the HYPREP leadership for failing to clean up Ogoniland despite paying a billion dollars for the project.

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