This past week came the news that Shell has decided to stop the majority of its operations in the Niger Delta in Nigeria. For those of you who don’t know the history behind their operations in this part of the world – allow me to enlighten you. By the end if this article hopefully your reaction to this news will be the same as mine – it’s about bloody time!
In 1937, Shell, at that time still going by the name Shell D’Arcy, began operations in the Niger Delta. By a little over 20 years later they were exporting their first commercial oil out of the country. They currently account for around 21% of the country’s petroleum export. Operating out of more than 80 fields, Shell Nigeria is the largest fossil fuel company in the country.
All of this sounds quite lucrative doesn’t it? You can’t imagine why they would even consider ceasing the majority of their operations in this – on paper – area abundant with opportunity and wealth. It seems to be just your average example of Dutch entrepreneurial success around the world. Well – think again. Wrought with controversy, their operations in the Niger Delta have become so unworkable and unmanageable (not to forget practically unprofitable with production prices soaring from 4 euro a barrel to 15 in ten years) that they have no other choice.
This of course raises the question, what could have happened to make it all go to hell? It’s not that the oil has dried up, nor the demand for it. We’re not all (God forbid) driving around in electric cars just yet. That electric whir just doesn’t have the same emotion and feeling to it as the roaring of a v6 engine! (Bring on the tree huggers who will curse my name to the wind but hey, cars just float my boat. Deal with it)
Frankly, the official reason given is merely one piece of the complicated puzzle that makes up the myriad of reasons why this has been such a massive failure. One piece of that puzzle acting as a catalyst for another. I don’t believe in the slightest that Shell has no culpability in this all going the proverbial tits up. It is true that due to theft of oil, political instability in the area and corruption it has become financially nonviable for them to continue down the present course. According to some estimates, up to 60,000 barrels of crude oil are being illegally tapped off from Shell’s pipelines per day. We’re definitely not talking peanuts here.
If I were Shell though, I would be wondering if perhaps, after decades of exploitation, environmental atrocities and human rights violations – they didn’t kind of have it coming?
In the early 1990’s the locals got sick of seeing Shell make billions off of their land whilst the only thing they were getting out of it was pollution, failed crops and health problems. Little did they know that by protesting this gross exploitation most of the protest leaders would end up being executed by the Nigerian government. Although Shell denies having anything to do with this and even claims it asked the Nigerian government to pardon them, one can’t help but speculate if there was some financial gain to be had by the Nigerian government.
Countless hectares of nature has been polluted by the massive oil leaks from Shell’s pipelines. Instead of taking responsibility, cleaning up your own damn mess and acting like a grown-up company, Shell simply pointed its finger at the locals claiming that up to 98% of these spillages were the result of sabotage. A figure they were later forced to reduce to around 70% after pressure from the Dutch government. Bluffing and bribing can only get your figures up so much before someone calls bullshit on you.
So to cut a long story short, I won’t be losing much sleep over Shell’s exit from the Niger Delta. I’m sure the local people won’t be either. They will probably be too busy with civil war, piracy and trying not to get killed. This reality they find themselves in could have largely been avoided had Shell and other international Oil corporations kept their grubby little hands off what was never theirs to begin with. It is with sadness in my heart that I must conclude that not all things Dutch are awesome…