When Shell aren’t spilling oil in Nigeria, they’re finding new ways to otherwise lose it. According to reports, one third of Shell’s daily oil extraction in Nigeria – some 300,000 barrels per day – is currently shut in at the Adibawa oil field in Bayelsa State. Shell declared a “force majeure” on 23 August, suspending global shipments of Nigerian crude oil until the end of October. And no, the cause was not armed militants, most of whom have laid down their weapons and accepted amnesty from the Nigerian government . Instead, it was down to Shell’s deeply flawed systems of pipeline management and community engagement, which provided the “catalyst” for this latest incident.

Shell awards “security contracts” to approximately 9,000 youth in the Niger Delta. While sustainable employment and professional training are urgently needed in the region, “security contracts” provide neither. This is because Shell tends to award these contracts to groups who pose the greatest threat to their operations, a practice that has triggered violent rivalry and worsened conflict over the years. In Adibawa, Shell’s strategy seriously backfired in early August 2011 when the company terminated local “security contracts” without warning. The newly redundant youth reacted furiously, taking hacksaws to key pipelines, such as the Adibawa – Okordia line.

The local impact of the incident is likely to be devastating. Nine oil spills have been recorded so far in Ikarama village, a rural community in Bayelsa. When I visited there in 2010 with Environmental Rights Action / FoE Nigeria, there was visible evidence of dumped and burned oil waste and the smell of crude was overpowering. “These are swamps, lakes that I used to take care of my children, train them,” local hunter, Washington Odoyibo told me. Washington explained that Shell’s pollution in Ikarama had ruined his livelihood and pushed his family deeper into poverty, a common experience in this rural community. Below are some pictures I took:

Shell’s latest shut-down of oil extraction in Nigeria raises serious questions about the company’s commitment to safeguarding against pollution, sabotage and conflict in the Niger Delta. How could Shell lose control of its pipelines so easily, and why has the company relied on inadequate “community engagement” practices known to cause problems? Shell’s response to these urgent issues has been muted.

More details on this incident are coming soon in a special Platform investigation.