shell international's legacy of pollution and damage
The Royal Dutch Shell Group (The Shell Group) is a huge multi
national corporation with annual gross sales of more than
$175 billion, more that most countries gross domestic product
(GDP). It is one of the worlds top oil companies (ranked either
No. 1 or No. 2) and the seventh largest chemical company.
In recent years, the Shell Group has
attempted to improve its environment standing in the world.
In 1995 the company committed itself to sustainable development.
It supports the International Labour Organisationís Declaration
of Principles and Rights at Work and is an active player in
the UN Global Compact. Itís business principles now include
a commitment to sustainable development and human rights.
This fact sheet looks at Shellís track record in Africa and
in particular, South Africa.
1. Shell International
The Shell Group is one of the biggest multi-national energy
corporations in the world operating in more than 145 countries
and employs in excess of 115 000 people.
The Shell Group was formed in 1907. It is comprised of The
Royal Dutch Petroleum Company based in the Hague and the Shell
Transport and Trading Company based in London.
The Shell Groupís business is based upon the exploration,
extraction, transportation and refining of fossil fuels -
oil and gas. It supplies petrol and lubricants to its 43 000
service stations around the world and produces a wide range
of chemical products.
2. Shell in South Africa
The Shell Group owns 50% of the largest oil refinery in Southern
Africa called the South African Petroleum Refinery (SAPREF).
British Petroleum (BP) owns the other 50%.
The Shell Group is jointly responsible for the management
and operation of SAPREF.
SAPREF started operations in the 1960ís after getting the
go ahead from the South African Apartheid government.
SAPREF is situated in the South Durban Basin next to the
Engen refinery, Durban International Airport and Monde Paper
Mil. It is surrounded by residential areas with a population
of approximately 250 000 inhabitants.
SAPREF has the capacity to refine 180 000 barrels of crude
a day and employs about 580 people and more than 600 contractors.
SAPREF operations consist of the refinery, seven underground
pipelines which run from the refinery through residential
areas, the Island View tank terminal which consists of storage
tanks and an off shore single buoy mooring, off the Durban
coast, where crude oil is off loaded from tankers and pumped
to the refinery.
SAPREF producers petrol, diesel, kerosene, lubricating oils,
jet fuel, LPG, paraffin-based solvents, bitumen, marine fuel
oil and chemical feed stocks.
3. Shellís Pollution in South Africa
The south Durban basin consists of 5 industrial belts and
is home to about 120 industries. SAPREF and the Engen Refinery
occupy one of these belts. Residential areas are located between
and adjacent to the industrial belts. It is one of the biggest
industrial pollution hotspot in South Africa.
Investigative studies by a local journalist have shown that
the rate of leukaemia in South Durban may be up to 24 times
higher than in other parts of South Africa. A study by the
University of Natal medical school found that children in
the suburbs south of Durban ďare up to four times likely to
suffer from chest complaints than children from other areas
of the cityĒ of Durban.
The Shell Groups management and operational record of SAPREF
has been poor as born out by the numerous accidents and incidents
that have occurred over the past five years at SAPREF.
On May 19, 1998 SAPREFís alkylation unit malfunctioned,
resulting in the release of 5 tons of hydrogen fluoride
into the atmosphere. Exposure to large amounts of hydrogen
fluoride can cause death. Inhaling hydrogen fluoride can
damage your lungs and heart. Long-term exposure can lead
to a condition called skeletal fluorosis.
In February 2000 the refinery management admitted that
they under reported their sulphur dioxide emissions to
Government authorities by up to 12 tons a day since 1995.
On January 23, 2001 a fire occurred at the Crude Distillation
Unit number 2 at SAPREF. On the same day 1000 litreís
of bunker fuel spilled into the Durban Bay.
On March, 22, 2001: A tetra ethyl lead (TEL) tank failure,
resulted in 25 tons of TEL leaking out of the tank. It
leaked for 4 days.
On June 19, 2001 a flare failure resulted in the release
of unburnt gases including a substantial amount of hydrogen
sulphide on to the surrounding communities.
On July 7, 2001 a petrol pipeline leak resulted in the
release of more than 1 million litres of petrol into the
soil under residents houses. The leak was discovered and
reported by residents.
On the 1st of August a second pipeline leak
was discovered resulting in residents demanding an immediate
inspection of the pipeline. The South Durban Community
Environmental Alliance, a coalition of community organisations
from residential areas in Durban south, has called on
SAPREF to replace all its pipelines as a matter of urgency.
Most of the pipelines, like the refinery are forty years
On August 15, 2001 SAPREFís Bitumen plant malfunctioned
resulting in the release of soot, smoke and hydrocarbons.
On the 14th October 2001, during a ship refueling,
fuel oil spilled into the harbour. SAPREF claimed that
only 20 litres of fuel leaked, but the harbour authorities
claim that closer to 2000 litres of fuel oil leaked into
On the 30 December 2001, 15000 litres of fuel oil spilled
from a SAPREF pipe into the harbour.
On the 9 July 2002, during SAPREF excavation
activities a diesel pipeline developed a leak resulting
in 1000 litres of diesel spilled into a south Durban residential
On the 19th November 2002, 15000 litres of
crude oil were released from SAPREFís off shore facility
into the ocean.
On the 4th February 2003, during a maintenance
test on a fuel oil pipeline, 1000 litres of fuel oil leaked
into a concrete tunnel near Island View. The fuel oil
was then pumped into Durban harbour.
4. Campaigns and Community Action around Shell
Communities in south Durban have a long history of environmental
activism against polluting industries. The South Durban Environmental
Alliance, formed in 1996, coordinates and leads community
action and negotiations with industry. The Allianceís main
concerns include the excessive pollution emanating from industry,
access to information from government and industry, the poor
record of industrial operation and management, lack of a strong
and enforceable regulatory framework for industry and a lack
of effective monitoring of industrial activities by government.
SDCEAís actions to address these concerns include a number
of strategies. Mobilising community action through public
meetings, demonstrations, the Media and campaigns is a central
strategy of the Alliance. Through these actions SDCEA has
consistently called on Shell to introduce pollution reduction
plans and to upgrade its facility. Networking with communities
both nationally and internationally, has added a new dimension
to this strategy. On the 23rd April 2003, SDCEA
together with groundwork, The United Front to Oust Oil Depots,
from the Philippines; Friends of the Earth Nigeria, The Community
In-power and Development Association, Port Arthur, Texas,
Concerned Citizens of Norco, Louisiana, USA, Environmental
Health Fund, USA, The Refinery Reform Campaign - Global Community
Monitor, USA, Friends of the Earth UK, Milieudefensie from
the Netherlands, and the South African Exchange Programme
on Environmental Justice challenged Shellís international
management at their AGM in London and the Hague. Communities
groups questioned Shell about their pollution and operational
track record and demanded that Shellís international management
address local concerns.
Case Study: The largest petrol spill in South African
In July 2001, residence living in the Bluff, a community
in the Durban south Basin, complained about a strong petrol
smell emanating from storm water drains in the area. A leak
was then discovered in an underground SAPREF pipeline which
transports 10 million litres of petrol a day through residential
areas. The leak is close to a wetland called - the Bluff Nature
Reserve along Tara Road in the Bluff. The leak, from a 4 millimeter
hole in the pipeline, was the result of external rusting of
the pipeline due to exposure to moisture.
SAPREF, after initially claiming that only 500 000 to 750
000 liters of petrol leaked from the hole, readjusted their
estimate to between 1 million to 1,5 million litres of petrol
that leaked. SAPREF has thus far recovered more than a million
litres of petrol form the soil. Remediation is expected to
continue until 2004.
With regard to health risks, SAPREF informed residents that
they may periodically experience burning eyes, coughing, dizziness
and nausea as a result of the petrol vapours. SAPREF conducted
no medical tests on residents. Remedial work to extract the
petrol from the soil resulted in high concentrations of benzene,
toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene in the air. Benzene exposure
is linked to leukemia. Two months after the spill, 5 families
living closest to the spill were temporarily relocated by
On the 27th August 2001, one month after the Tara
Road incident, SAPREF reported another leak in their fuel
oil pipeline between Badulla Drive and Grays Inn Road, Durban
South. The fuel oil pipeline was shut down for inspection
which revealed 98 defects involving 70% or more decrease of
wall thickness, 42 defects involving between 60% to 70% decrease
of wall thickness and 98 defects of 50% to 60% decrease of
wall thickness. SAPREF then repaired patched of the pipeline
over a length of 11 km. 2 km of pipeline was replaced completely.
Six months later on the 14th January 2002, tests
revealed new oil spills on the same pipeline.
SAPREFís research into itís other 6 pipelines, reveal 8 defects
involving 70% or more deterioration of pipeline wall thickness,
4 defects involving between 60% to 70% deterioration of wall
thickness and 19 defects of between 50% to 60% deterioration
of wall thickness.
Requests to replace the entire pipeline have not been granted.
5. Shell in Nigeria
The Niger River Delta, a 70 000 square kilometer region on
the south western coast of Nigeria, West Africa is an important
life sustaining natural resource. It contains Africaís largest
wetland and one of the Africaís largest coastal mangrove forests.
Nigerians has cultivated itís rich soil producing rice, sugar
cane, cassava, palm oil, yams and beans to feed families and
communities for decades. It has more varieties of fresh water
fish species than anywhere in West Africa.
The Niger Delta also contains an estimated proven oil reserves
of 22,5 billion of the worlds best quality crude oil. In addition
to this, the Niger Delta also has natural gas, estimated at
124 trillion cubic feet, making it the worlds 9th
The Royal Dutch Shell was the first oil company to be involved
in Nigeria. In 1937, it had exclusive exploration and prospecting
rights. In 1956, Shell first discovered oil and two years
later it was producing oil from itís Oloibiri well in Nigeria.
After independence, the Nigerian Government transferred ownership
of mineral rights to the Nigerian Government. Today, the Nigerian
National Petroleum Corporation, thorough joint ventures with
oil companies manages oil development in Nogeria. However,
oil companies like Shell manage the day to day operations
of oil extraction and development.
The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria is the
largest producer, producing 900 000 barrels per day.
Oil Production has been at the centre of the continuing civil
conflict in Nigeria since independence in 1960. In the past
Nigeria produced enough food to feed itís people as well as
to export. Today itís economy is dependant on oil production.
The agricultural sector is unable to produce enough food,
forcing Nigeria to import food to feed itís people. With itís
reliance on oil, so too grew its civil instability, corruption
and economic exploitation.
There are documented evidence of spill, leaks, and well blow
outs that occurred throuout the region for the past 30 years.
According to the US Energy Information Centre, more than 4000
oil spills have have been recorded in Nigeriaís Niger Delta
over the past four decades.
In July 1970 Shellís Bomu
11 oil well in the Tai/Gokana area of Ogoni, Nigeria blows
out and flows over land. In March 1998 a crude oil spill of
more than 840 000 barrels occurred at Shellís Jones Creek
Flow Station due to a pipeline failure. In 2000, Shell Nigeria
reported 340 oil spills resulting in 30,751 barrels of oil
The Case of Ken Sara Wiwa:
Ken Sara Wiwa was a community leader of the Ogoni people
of eastern Nigeria. In 1990, Ken Sara Wiwa founded the Movement
for the Survival of the Ogoni People. The Movement adopted
an Ogoni Bill of Rights demanding political autonomy and accused
Shell of participating in the genocide og the Ogoni people.
in October 1990, a peacefull protest took place outside Shells
Umuechem facility in Port Harcourt. Police killed 80 unarmed
demonstrators and destroyed 495 homes. The demonstration was
organised by the Umuachem youth who called for electricity,
water, roads and other compensation due to oil pollution of
crops and water supplies.
In April 1993, Ogoni farmers protested in front of earth
moving equiptment used to lay pipelines for Shell across Ogoni
farm land. The Nigerian military was summoned to the demonstration.
One demonstrator was killed and another injured.
In June 1993, a pipeline leak at a Shell flow station resulted
in crude oil being spilled over Ogoni farm land into water
sources in Korokoro. The leak continued for forty days without
any response from Shell. Throuout this time Ken Sara Wiwa
and other Ogoni leaders were detained several times. The Nigerian
Government also set up a special task force to deal with the
Ogoni crisis. In May 1994, four Ogoni leaders were murdered
by a group of youths who accused them of being government
collaborators. Ken Sara Wiwa and other Ogoni leaders were
arrested in connection with the murders, despite lack of evidence.
The arrests and Government violence led to major protests
by the Ogoni people.
While in prison Ken Sara Wiwa received the Right Livelihood
Award, the alternative Nobel Peace Prize.
On the 31st October 1995, Ken Sara Wiwa was sentenced
to death by the Nigerian Tribunal. On the 10th
November he and eight others were hanged, despite international
Despite the Shell Groupís public commitment to sustainable
development and human rights, communities are yet to benefit.
The overriding recommendation that communities have put to
the Shell Group is that they should put peopleís health and
the environment first, before profits.
The Shell Group
should implement the highest international operating, environmental,
ethical, workplace and business practice standards in every
country that it operates in. The Shell Group should provide
access to information about accidents and incidents to communities.
Open communication and transparency will positively reward
the companyís public image as well as build trust between
the Company and communities. The Shell Group must address
and invest in rehabilitating the impact of its past actions
on people and the environment.
Following are other reports which have been published in
the past year which have further information on Shell's operations
in South Africa and abroad:
1. Failing the Challenge - The Other Shell Report 2002
can be downloaded here
2. ďLeaking Pipelines Ė Shell in South AfricaĒ can
be downloaded from www.foenl.org
3. Comparison of Refineries in Denmark & South Durban
in an Environmental & Societal Context: A 2002 Snapshot;
South Durban Community Environmental Alliance can be downloaded
4. Ground-zero in the Carbon Economy: People on the petrochemical
fence-line; South African People and Environments in the
Global Market can be downloaded here.
5. The groundWork Report 2002, Corporate Accountability
in South Africa can be downloaded here.