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Oil spills

Oil spills

Illegal refining contributes to oil pollution in the Niger Delta. (photo)

Illegal refining contributes to oil pollution
in the Niger Delta.

The volume of operational spills onshore from SPDC facilities fell by around 30% from 2010 to 0.5 thousand tonnes in 2011. The lower risk of threat from militants allowed SPDC to launch emergency spill response teams more quickly and gain greater access to spill sites. As a result, SPDC was able to put a stop to spills earlier and accelerate the clean-up of older oil spill sites. Of 401 sites in need of remediation at the start of 2011, SPDC had cleaned up more than 75% by the end of the year.

The number of operational spills onshore from SPDC facilities, however, increased to 63 in 2011, from 32 in 2010, as more pipelines were put back into operation. Stopping spills under its direct control is a key priority for SPDC. In 2011, work to maintain and replace pipelines and other infrastructure continued. In the past three years, SPDC has replaced about 400 km of pipeline, and work continues to replace further pipelines.

Although militant attacks have declined, industrial-scale oil theft and illegal refining remain serious problems. They lead to spills that cause environmental damage. A report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in 2009 estimated as much as 150,000 barrels of oil a day were being stolen. The volume of spills caused by sabotage and theft from SPDC facilities fell in 2011 to 1.6 thousand tonnes, from 3.0 thousand tonnes in 2010. This fall reflected SPDC’s improved ability to monitor infrastructure and increased access to spill sites as a result of the government amnesty.

The number of spills from sabotage and theft increased in 2011 as SPDC put more pipelines back into service. Although not caused by SPDC, such spills are a reality of operating in the Delta. SPDC cleans up all spills, whatever their cause, and recognises it must do what it can to help reduce them. In August 2011, it shut down production of around 25,000 barrels of oil a day from one field in the Imo River area after repeated attacks on pipelines. It also held meetings with community leaders, regulatory authorities and social organisations to discuss these issues and SPDC oil spill management practices. Breaking the entrenched cycle of the oil-spill economy – where people see oil spills, theft and illegal refining as their only viable source of income – will be the key to making progress.

In December 2011, an oil leak occurred during a routine operation at SNEPCo’s Bonga field, 120 km off the coast of Nigeria. The leak happened during a transfer of oil from Bonga’s floating production, storage and offloading vessel to an oil tanker. SNEPCo estimates that some 35,000 barrels of oil, or 4.8 thousand tonnes, were lost. SNEPCo staff worked with international oil-spill experts and Nigerian government agencies to tackle the spill using aircraft and vessels. As a result of this rapid response, almost no oil from Bonga reached shore.


Flaring from SPDC facilities fell by around 20% in 2011 from the previous year, to 1.9 million tonnes of gas. Flaring per tonne of production fell to the lowest level SPDC has recorded. SPDC is currently implementing a $2 billion programme to install new gas-gathering equipment, in addition to $3 billion previously spent on reducing flaring. Further progress towards its goal of ending continuous flaring will depend on continued stable funding, government approvals for individual contracts to install the equipment needed, and reliable security. SPDC is determined to continue to make progress in the reduction of flaring.