Shell oil exploration and extraction, Nigeria

Repression, contamination and impunity in one of the richest environments on Earth; "It is this - Dear friend, turns our free world -Into a dreary prison" (Ken Saro Wiwa). Read here about one of the most striking environmental crimes in the history


(Español, abajo) Summary of the case The corporation involved in the conflict is Royal Dutch Shell, based in the Netherlands, for the actions carried out by its subsidiaries in Nigeria, namely those of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (Shell Nigeria). Shell Nigeria has been violating Nigerian laws prohibiting gas flaring since 1984, and with its leaks has transformed the once fertile wetlands of the Niger delta into the world’s largest oil disaster. Several studies point to the devastating effects of gas flaring on people and the environment, first and foremost the United Nations Environmental Programme 2011 Assessment Report, especially referring to the 1 million people affected by hydrocarbon pollution in surface water in Ogoniland, where benzene, a known cancer-causing chemical, was found in drinking water at a level 900 times above the standards of the World Health Organization. Fisheries in the area are completely destroyed, affecting at least 5 million fishermen who lack resources to pursue court cases, as well as crops and vegetation from the effect of acid rain, which has also caused miscarriages, deformed births, respiratory illnesses, and cancer. The consequences of the activity of Shell Nigeria are in violation of Article 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which recognizes the right of all peoples to a satisfactory environment favourable to their development, and of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Government of Nigeria, which recognizes a number of fundamental rights including the right to life and dignity of the human person.

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Basic Data
NameShell oil exploration and extraction, Nigeria
SiteAll exploration concessions in the country
Accuracy of LocationLOW country/state level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Gas flaring
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Oil and gas refining
Specific CommoditiesCrude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe estimated 1.5 million tons spilled over the last 50 years is approximately equivalent to the total Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989 taking place every year . More than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and there are 2,000 official major spillages sites and thousands of other smaller ones. The amount of gas flares that are kept burning day and night can produce as much CO2 as three million cars driven on roads in Europe .

Las más de 1,5 millones de toneladas de petróleo vertido durante los últimos 50 años en la región equivale aproximadamente a la cantidad total vertida en el desastre de Exxon Valdez en Alaska en 1989, cada año. Hay evidencia de más de 7.000 vertidos entre 1970 y 2000, y existen 2.000 zonas de vertido oficiales y otras miles de menor tamaño. La cantidad de gases que se queman día y noche pueden producir tanto CO2 como tres millones de coches en las carreteras de Europa.
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population30,000,000
Start Date01/01/1937
Company Names or State EnterprisesRoyal Dutch Shell (Shell) from Netherlands
Relevant government actorsNigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), London High Court (UK), US Supreme Court, District Court of the Hague
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersEnvironmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (Nigeria), Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieu Defensie), Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, Permanent Peoples Tribunal
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Public campaigns
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Boycotts of companies-products
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Street protest/marches
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Official complaint letters and petitions
Presentation to the case to the Popular Peoples Tribunal
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..) , Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Criminalization of activists
Strengthening of participation
Institutional changes
Violent targeting of activists
Development of AlternativesThe devastating environmental and humanitarian impact of the oil industry in Nigeria has pushed scholars and activists to search for alternative ways to halt this degradation and redirect the benefits towards the Nigerian people. For instance, ERA/FoE Nigeria submitted a proposal in 2009 under the name of Leave new oil in the soil. This alternative aimed at stopping the opening of new oil fields, secure the current production that is being stolen and sold on the black market and set up a “crude oil solidary fund” to keep the revenues of the oil industry in Nigeria.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Despite the many achievements of the organized resistance and the NGOs involved in the defense of the local communities, Shell still perpetrates most of the human rights violations and environmental crimes without taking responsibility nor accountability.
Sources and Materials

African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights
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Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
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United Nations Environmental Programme 2011 Assessment Report
[click to view]


ERA/FoE Nigeria
[click to view]

[click to view]

Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power
[click to view]

Testimony of the case in the Permanent Peoples Tribunal Hearing - Corporate Human Rights Violations and Peoples Access to Justice. Geneva, 23 June 2014
[click to view]

[1] Human Rights Watch (1999). The Price of Oil: Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria’s Oil Producing Communities, page 7
[click to view]

[6] Mouawad, J. (2009, June 8). Shell to Pay $15.5 Million to Settle Nigerian Case. The New York Times [digital edition]
[click to view]

[7] Milieudefensie (no date). Oil Spills in the Niger Delta in Nigeria
[click to view]

[2] Brown, J. (2006, Oct. 26). Niger Delta bears brunt after 50 years of oil spills. The Independent
[click to view]

[3] Vidal, J. (2014, Nov. 13). Shell ignored internal warnings over Nigeria oil spills, documents suggest. The Guardian [Digital edition]
[click to view]

[4] Vidal, J. (2015, Jan. 7). Shell announces £55m payout for Nigeria oil spills. The Guardian [Digital edition]
[click to view]

[5] Chatterjee, P. (2013, Apr. 17). U.S. Supreme Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against Shell in Nigeria. CorpWatch
[click to view]

Other Documents

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Contaminated land and flares Source:
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Meta Information
ContributorGlobal Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, Transnational Institute - TNI
Last update10/04/2019