Timeline: Half a century of oil spills in Nigeria’s Ogoniland
Since oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Nigeria in 1958, thousands of oil spill incidents have happened.
In the oil-rich Niger Delta region of southern Nigeria, the people are worried about the health and environmental impacts of the crude oil spills that have been happening since oil was discovered there in 1958.
The epicentre of this has been Ogoniland, 261 communities spread over nearly 1,000sq km (385sq miles).
Between 1976 and 1991, more than two million barrels of oil polluted Ogoniland in 2,976 separate oil spills as Nigeria became one of the world’s largest oil producers.
In 2020 and 2021, Nigeria’s National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) recorded 822 combined oil spills, totalling 28,003 barrels of oil spewed into the environment.
Those who depend on farming and fishing have felt a direct impact on their livelihoods and residents have reported myriad health issues.
Life expectancy in the Niger Delta is 41 years, 10 years lower than the national average.
Below is a timeline of oil spills and related activity in Ogoniland, from 1958 to date.
Oil is discovered in commercial quantity in Ogoniland. Shell commences operations.
An oil spill, possibly the first documented one, occurs in the Boobanabe community as a result of a fire at Shell’s Bomu oil well.
Ogoni leaders, including environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, form the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), a non-partisan organisation to stop the exploitation of the Ogoni by oil companies and the government.
Due to increasing local and international protests, Shell suspends 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
About 300,000 Ogoni people protest peacefully against Shell and oil pollution. Later that year, Shell requests military support to build a pipeline through Ogoniland.
November 10, 1995
Despite international appeals for clemency, Nigeria’s military government executes Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni human rights activists on charges of murder of four Ogoni elders.
April 26, 2001
A spill occurs in the Yorla community that lasts till May 7, 2001. It triggers a fire that consumes crops of commercial foods and medicinal herbs.
An explosion at Shell’s abandoned Yorla oil field causes another major oil spill.
Ogoni people report an oil spill from a damaged pipeline owned by Shell.
August 28, 2008
The first of two massive oil spills occurs in the Bodo community due to a fault in the Trans-Niger Pipeline. The leak goes on for at least four weeks. Shell says 1,640 barrels of oil were spilled but experts estimate the leak to be nearly three times that – as much as 4,000 barrels.
December 7, 2008
A second spill occurs in the Bodo community.
Ten weeks after the second Bodo spill, between February 19 and 21, Nigeria’s NOSDRA, Shell and the Bodo community go on a joint investigation visit. Afterwards, Shell says the spill was caused by equipment failure due to natural corrosion.
April 12, 2009
Fire and a spill at the Bomu manifold cause oil to flow into the swamp. The manifold is a junction where several Shell pipelines meet in Kegbara Dere, Ogoniland. The fire burns for 36 hours.
November 30, 2009
At the Nigerian government’s request, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) launches an assessment of the impact of contamination from oil across the Ogoni region.
UNEP publishes a report on the environmental impact of oil industry operations in Ogoniland, showing widespread contamination of soil and groundwater and recommending a comprehensive cleanup of affected areas.
After a class action suit in the UK, Shell accepts responsibility for the double rupture of the Bodo-Bonny Trans-Niger Pipeline that caused two massive oil spills in Bodo. The Trans-Niger carries up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day through the community.
May 7, 2012
A spill occurs in Kegbara-Dere, about 200 metres (650 feet) from the Bomu manifold.
February 1, 2013
The Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology meets with Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) over the environmental degradation of Ogoniland.
An explosion occurs at a Shell pipeline, spilling 6,000 barrels of crude oil into the creeks and waterways of Bodo. The Ogoni people vow not to allow oil exploration to resume in the area until conditions addressing challenges of environmental pollution are met.
November 13, 2014
As revealed by Amnesty International, court documents show Shell repeatedly made false claims about the size and impact of the two oil spills in Bodo 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 to have remediated the site twice in 1975 and 2012.
June 2, 2016
Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo launches the Ogoni cleanup, alongside UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, then the country’s environment minister.
March 25, 2017
Shell agrees to clean up Bodo, which was affected by two spills in 2008.
July 26, 2017
The UN pledges continued support for the execution of the Ogoni cleanup.
July 3, 2018
MOSOP opposes the application by the SPDC for the renewal of its oil mining license in Ogoniland.
Remediation sites in Eleme, Tai, Khana and Gokana Local Government areas of Ogoni are handed over to 21 contractors.
April 18, 2019
Two oil spills claim two lives in the Kegbara-Dere community, according to the local paper The Sun.
May 5, 2019
An investigation by the local paper Premium Times alleges that unqualified companies were awarded Ogoni cleanup contracts.
October 25, 2021
Contractors in charge of the Bodo community cleanup in Ogoniland said 2 million litres (440,000 gallons) of crude oil were recovered from the ongoing exercise by SPDC in the area.
July 5, 2022
A parliamentary committee summons environment minister Mohammed Abdullahi and HYPREP management over failure to clean up Ogoniland despite payment of $1bn for the project.