Shell placed an oil installation in the village of Ikot Ada Udo nearly 50 years ago at the head of an oil well. Shortly after it installed the wellhead, Shell decided not to produce oil in that place but left the installation in place. Since then, the wellhead has been left abandoned among the vegetable gardens of the village of Ikot Ada Udo. It has been nicknamed the Christmas tree because it resembles one.
Villagers reported multiple oil leaks in the period between 1996 and 1999, and in 2004. Noxious fumes and a brown oily substance have regularly escaped from the oil installation. This apparently was caused by malfunctioning of old parts and lack of maintenance by Shell. In August 2006 and 2007, the villagers discovered that the leaks were becoming worse and reported this to Shell. Shell said that the pollution was not that bad. Nevertheless, the leaks continued. The oil installation started to spray raw oil over the fields, for three months, accompanied by a deafening hissing noise and penetrating gas smell. Heavy rainfall carried the oil in rivulets and into the village fishponds. The fish died and the drinking water became polluted.
By early 2008 Shell had not even started an investigation into the scope of the pollution. It was not until September/October 2008 that Shell attempted to clean up the oil. A large amount of the oil-saturated land was piled up in the forest. The farmlands and fishponds which were polluted by the oil that swept over them have never been cleaned up.