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Large spills of crude oil, oil products and chemicals associated with our operations can harm the environment, and result in major clean-up costs, fines and other damages. They can also affect our licence to operate and harm our reputation.

Spill response deployment exercise at offshore Malaysia with two spraying nozzles (photo)
Photo: Spill response deployment exercise using the AFEDO™ Nozzles, at offshore Malaysia.

Working to prevent spills

We have requirements and procedures designed to prevent spills. We design, operate and maintain our facilities with the intention of avoiding spills. To minimise the risk of spills, Shell has routine programmes to reduce failures and maintain the reliability of facilities and pipelines.

Our business units are responsible for organising and executing spill responses in line with Shell guidelines and relevant legal and regulatory requirements. Our offshore installations have spill response plans for when an incident occurs. These plans set out response strategies and techniques, available equipment, and trained personnel and contracts. We can engage specialist contracted services for oil spill response, including vessels, aircraft or other equipment and resources, if required, for large spills. We conduct regular exercises that seek to ensure these plans remain effective and fit for purpose.

We have further developed our ability to respond to spills to surface water. We have a worldwide network of trained staff to help with this. We also have a global oil spill expertise centre which tests local capability and maintains our ability to respond to a significant spill into a marine environment.

Spills still occur for reasons such as operational failure, accidents, unusual corrosion or sabotage and theft. In 2023, there were 70 operational spills of more than 100 kilograms each compared with 55 in 2022 (restated from 54 operational spills, following a review of the performance data). The weight of operational spills of oil and oil products in 2023 was 0.37 thousand tonnes, compared with 0.06 thousand tonnes in 2022. In 2023, 140 spills were caused by sabotage. Of those, 139 were in Nigeria and one in Australia. The number of these spills increased to 140 in 2023 from 75 in 2022, with the volume also increasing to 1.4 thousand tonnes from 0.6 thousand tonnes in 2022.

See "Safety" section for more information on emergency response.

Spills in Nigeria

In the Niger Delta, over the last 13 years, the total number of operational hydrocarbon spills and the volume of oil spilled from them into the environment have been significantly reduced.

Most oil spills in the Niger Delta region continue to be caused by crude oil theft, the sabotage of oil and gas production facilities, and illegal oil refining, including the distribution of illegally refined products.

In 2023, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) [A], as operator of the SPDC joint venture (Shell interest 30%), reported nine operational spill incidents of more than 100 kilograms of crude oil, compared with 10 reported in 2022. The volume of around 0.005 thousand tonnes was less than the 0.01 thousand tonnes reported in 2022.

[A] Unless otherwise stated, all activities reported for or as relating to The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) in this section should be understood as SPDC acting as the operator of the SPDC joint venture (SPDC JV). SPDC, as the corporate entity, owns 30% of the JV.

SPDC has an ongoing work programme to appraise, maintain and replace key sections of pipelines and flow lines to reduce the number of operational spills. In 2023, around 54 kilometres of pipelines and flow lines were replaced. This work is organised through a proactive pipeline and flow line integrity management system. The system installs barriers where necessary, and recommends when and where pipeline sections should be replaced to prevent failures.

In January 2024, Shell announced the sale of its Nigerian onshore subsidiary, SPDC. Completion of the transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and other conditions.

See the "Upstream" section.

Spills caused by sabotage in 2023

In 2023, about 94% of the oil spills of more than 100 kilograms each from the SPDC-operated facilities were caused by the illegal activities of third parties. In 2023, the volume of crude oil spills of more than 100 kilograms caused by sabotage was around 1.4 thousand tonnes (139 incidents), compared with around 0.6 thousand tonnes (75 incidents) in 2022. The increased number of incidents in 2023 can be directly attributed to an increase in third-party illegal connections on pipelines, with 119 incidents reported in 2023 compared with 56 in 2022. SPDC continues to work with the government security agencies to maintain surveillance and address illegal activities of third parties, primarily along the SPDC JV pipeline and its operational areas.


In 2023, SPDC continued on-ground surveillance of its areas of operation, including its pipeline network, to mitigate third-party interference and ensure that spills are detected and responded to as quickly as possible.

There are daily surveillance flights covering the most vulnerable segments of the pipeline network to identify any new spills or illegal activity. SPDC has introduced anti-theft protection mechanisms for key infrastructure such as wellheads and manifolds. The programme to protect wellheads with steel cages continues to help deter theft, and drones have been introduced to inspect pipelines and monitor security of operations.

In 2023, 60 steel cages were installed, bringing the total number to 374. This includes 52 cages that have been upgraded with CCTV and 28 with satellite communications. In 2023, out of 508 registered attempts to compromise these cages, 38 were successful.

Response and remediation

Regardless of the cause of a spill, SPDC cleans up and remediates areas affected by spills originating from its facilities. In 2023, the time that SPDC needed to complete the recovery of free-phase oil – oil that forms a separate layer and is not mixed with water or soil – remained at around one week. This is the average time it takes to safely access a damaged site, initiate containment to prevent further spread of the spill, and start joint investigation visits with regulators, affected communities and, in some cases, with NGOs.

Clean-up activities include bio-remediation which stimulates micro-organisms that naturally break down and use carbon-rich oil as a source of food and energy, effectively removing it. Once clean-up and remediation operations are completed, the work is inspected and, if satisfactory, approved and certified by the Nigerian regulators. With operational spills, SPDC also pays compensation to affected people and communities.

SPDC has been working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2012 to enhance remediation techniques and protect biodiversity at sites affected by oil spills in its areas of operation in the Niger Delta. Based on this collaboration, SPDC has launched further initiatives to help strengthen its remediation and restoration efforts. In 2021, SPDC, IUCN, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, and Wetlands International began working together as the Niger Delta Biodiversity Technical Advisory Group (BTAG), which continues to monitor biodiversity recovery at remediated sites.

SPDC also works with a range of stakeholders in the Niger Delta to build greater trust in spill response and clean-up processes. For example, local communities participate in remediation work for operational spills. Various NGOs have sometimes gone on joint investigation visits with SPDC, government regulators and members of affected communities to establish the cause and volume of oil spills.

SPDC has continued to raise awareness of and counter the negative effects of crude oil theft and illegal oil refining, both causing oil spills. Examples include awareness and education programmes, community-based pipeline surveillance and promoting alternative livelihoods through Shell's flagship youth entrepreneurship programme, Shell LiveWIRE.

Ogoniland: Commitment to the United Nations Environment Programme

SPDC remains committed to the implementation of the 2011 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report on Ogoniland which assessed contamination from oil operations in the region and recommended actions to clean it up. Over the last 12 years, SPDC has acted on all and completed most of the UNEP recommendations that were specifically addressed to it as the operator of the joint venture.

The clean-up efforts are led by the Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project (HYPREP), which was established by the Nigerian government. The UNEP report had recorded 67 sites, of which two were classified as waste sites without hydrocarbon pollution. Also, for 13 sites, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) certified that – in contrast to the original report – remediation was not needed.

This left 52 sites to be remediated, with all completed sites to be certified by NOSDRA. In 2021 and 2022, remediation was completed for 18 sites, and certification issued for 13 of those. In 2023, remediation of one site and certification of three sites was completed, and work on the remaining sites continues. Field work commenced on 17 sites and remediation plans are being developed for the remaining 15 sites.

The UNEP report recommended creating an Ogoni Trust Fund (OTF) with $1 billion capital, to be co-funded by the Nigerian government, SPDC JV, SPDC (30% interest in SPDC JV) and other operators in the area. The SPDC JV is responsible for contributing $900 million to the OTF, the Nigerian government and other operators for contributing $100 million. By the end of 2023, SPDC had fully paid its share of the SPDC JV's commitments to the clean-up process which brought the total contribution to the OTF to $751 million.

Although remediation works continue to make progress, challenges remain. These include re-pollution, land disputes, environmental issues such as flooding caused by excessive rainfall, and security issues in Ogoniland.

UNEP continues to monitor the progress of the clean-up through its observer status at HYPREP´s Governing Council and the Ogoni Trust Fund. UN agencies, such as the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, provide services to HYPREP in the areas of livelihood programmes, training and project services.

Group of people in waterproof clothing walking through the shoreline to clean up (photo)
Photo: A shoreline clean-up and assessment technique (SCAT) team at work.

Bodo clean-up process

In 2015, SPDC and the Bodo community in Ogoniland signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), granting SPDC access to begin cleaning up areas affected by two operational spills that occurred in 2008. The MOU also provided for the selection of two international contractors to conduct the clean-up under the oversight of an independent project director. Engagement with the Bodo community and other stakeholders began in 2015, and was managed by the Bodo Mediation Initiative. The clean-up project was delayed in 2016 and for most of 2017 because access to the sites was challenged by the local community.

In September 2017, a three-phase clean-up and remediation programme started:

  • Phase 1: Removal of oil from shoreline surfaces and mud flat beds was completed in 2018.
  • Phase 2: Remediation activities related to soil and sediments started in late 2019 on the around 1,000 hectares designated for clean-up. By the end of 2023, work on around 88% of that area had been completed. In late 2022, the work had to be suspended because of safety concerns and community unrest. Work resumed at the end of 2023, following a dispute resolution process and continues into 2024.
  • Phase 3: The replanting of mangrove seedlings started in 2021. Around two million seedlings need to be planted and survive to 2025 to fulfil the project's goal. By the end of 2023, the number of seedlings planted remained at 340,000, the level reached at the end of 2022, because of community unrest.
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