Decode Oil Spills: Innovative data project enlists thousands of digital activists to track Nigeria spills

The latest project from a revolutionary crowdsourcing platform will engage thousands of digital volunteers to help Amnesty International ensure justice for communities devastated by oil spills in the Niger Delta.
Amnesty International supporters from all over the world can take part in the Decode Oil Spills project, which aims to hold oil companies like Shell and ENI to account for the environmental damage they have caused in the region. By analyzing data about oil spills, decoders will help to expose false claims by oil companies, and better empower local communities to demand proper clean up and compensation.
“The Niger Delta is one of the most polluted places on earth. For far too long wealthy oil companies have evaded justice for the utter devastation they have caused to the land and water of the Delta, and to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in the region. Shell has relied on demonstrably false claims to avoid accountability, but with the help of digital activists from around the world we are determined to uncover the truth,” said Milena Marin, Amnesty International’s Senior Innovations Campaigner.
“The Decode Oil Spills project means anybody with a mobile phone or laptop can contribute to vital research into human rights abuses, and marks a new chapter in the way people can hold companies to account.”
Hundreds of oil spills occur in the Niger Delta every year and they are rarely cleaned up properly. Decades of pollution linked to the oil industry has destroyed people’s livelihoods, undermined their rights to clean water and food, and put their health at serious risk.
There have been more than 1,700 oil spills from Shell is operations in the Niger Delta since 2007. The Italian oil company ENI has smaller operations in the region than Shell but has reported even more spills – in excess of 3,000 since 2007.
There is a vast amount of publicly available data on Nigerian oil spills dating back to 2011 – too much for Amnesty researchers to analyze alone. Much of this information is only available in scanned, hand written documents, making it impossible to extract information at scale. What is more, past experience has shown that Shell has made false statements relating to spills; for example, claiming that they were caused by oil thieves or pipeline saboteurs when they were in fact due to corroded pipes, so they can pay less compensation, or avoid cleaning up the pollution.
This is where decoders come in. Amnesty International is inviting digital volunteers to help determine the cause and location of oil spills by analyzing photos and documents using their smartphone, tablet or laptop, so that the organization can help bring the companies responsible to account. On average decoders will be required to spend under one minute per task.
With the Decoders platform Amnesty has started building a community of tens of thousands of digital activists who are able to work with large volumes of “messy” information and transform it into structured evidence of human rights violations.
Since the launch of the Decoders platform in June 2016, the organization has successfully completed three projects mobilizing 45,000 digital volunteers from 150 countries to support its research.
The tool used on the Decode Oil Spills platform has a built-in verification mechanism – meaning that each image will be shown to a number of different decoders, and will be treated as verified when they agree on what they have seen. Amnesty researchers will also do random checks on the data to ensure its quality and veracity.
On 28 June a case was launched against Shell in the Netherlands, accusing it of complicity in the unlawful arrest, detention and execution of nine men who were hanged by Nigeria’s military government in the 1990s.
For more information, contact Sue Montgomery, media relations for Amnesty International Canada at 613-744-7667 ext. 236 or