Shell's Bonga oil spill might be worse than reported

By Brien Southward

Although Shell initially announced that the December 20 spill in the Bonga field in the Niger Delta had lost “less than 40,000 barrels,” or 1.7 million gallons, satellite imaging nonprofit SkyTruth suggests that the spill could have lost up to 2.4 million gallons. If SkyTruth’s data is correct, the discrepancy is likely due to the inconsistent thickness of the oil slick.

Royal Dutch Shell’s own data suggests otherwise. On December 25, Shell released an update on its response to the Bonga oil leak to say that the leak has largely been dispersed. The day before that, their flyover estimates put the remaining volume of the leak at less than 10,000 barrels.

The spill occurred while oil was being transferred between storage ships. Shell has released an image of a damaged line, which they cite as the ultimate source of the leak. Reuters reports that the Bonga field has a normal production capacity of 200,000 barrels per day, which is 10% of Nigeria’s monthly oil production.

Shell's Niger delta pipelines have spilled several times, which Shell usually attributes to sabotage and theft. If there is a discrepancy between the real size of the spill and Shell’s reported size, a press release from Shell Nigeria suggests that there could be oil from a third-party vessel involved.

The country chair for Shell Nigeria, Mutiu Sunmonu, has said that the cleanup efforts have been hampered by oil spilled by another vessel in the area. “Our teams witnessed oil on the surface of the water that they are sure did not come from Bonga,” he said. “We have taken samples of this oil to understand where it came from.”

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