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20 Jun 2005

Gas flaring lawsuit (re oil companies in Nigeria)


Date lawsuit was filed
20 Jun 2005
Location of Filing: Nigeria
Location of Incident: Nigeria
Type of Litigation: Domestic


TotalEnergies (formerly Total) France Oil, gas & coal, Energy
Chevron United States of America Oil, gas & coal
AGIP (part of Eni) Italy Oil, gas & coal


Snapshot: In 2005, local communities from the Niger Delta filed lawsuits in Nigeria against the Nigerian Government and oil companies - Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), Total, and local subsidiaries of Shell, Chevron and Agip, alleging that the companies' continued practice of gas flaring (burning off natural gas in oil production) caused environmental damages and violated their right to life and human dignity. The lawsuits adopted different strategies. This case profile looks at lawsuits filed against SPDC, Total, Agip, Chevron and NNPC in the High Court in Nigeria.

Gas flaring (the practice of burning off natural gas associated with oil production) has been illegal in Nigeria since 1984.  Companies may only flare if they have ministerial consent.  The Nigerian Government has imposed a number of deadlines for phasing out the practice, none of which have been met.

On 20 June 2005, local communities from the Niger Delta filed a complaint against the Nigerian Government and oil companies – Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), Total and the Nigerian subsidiaries of Shell, Chevron and Agip.  The complaint was filed in the Benin Judicial Division of the Federal High Court of Nigeria.  The plaintiffs withdrew the case on advice of the court and replaced it with a number of cases brought by individual communities within the federal high courts of their respective states.  

In a separate lawsuit, plaintiffs from the Rumuekpe Eremah, Akala-Olu, Idama communities filed a claim on 20 September 2005 against SPDC, Total, Agip, Chevron and NNPC in the High Court in Port Harcourt.  The case was dismissed on 29 September 2006.  The judge held that constitutional rights were innately connected to individuals and that claims of violations of these rights cannot be brought in representative capacity (ie, by the individual communities), which was the situation in this case.  Both actions have been appealed.

- “Nigeria: Gas Flare – Oil Majors in Race to Beat 2012 Deadline”, Adeola Yusuf, Daily Independent [Nigeria], 24 May 2010
- “Nigeria’s gas profits ‘up in smoke’”, Andrew Walker, BBC News, 13 Jan 2009
- “Nigerian Court Gives Shell One Year to Stop Gas Flaring”, Environmental News Service, 11 Apr 2006
- “Judge Orders Gas Flaring to Stop Immediately”, Jim Lobe, IPS News, 14 Nov 2005
- “Shell faces flaring lawsuit”, Terry Macalister, Guardian [UK], 31 Jun 2005
- “Contempt case for Shell over gas”, BBC, 24 Dec 2005

 - Shell: Flaring in Nigeria
- Nigerian National Petroleum Company: Gas Production
- Environmental Rights Action: ERA/FoEN urges Shell to respect court order on gas flaring, 2 May 2007 [contains timeline of legal proceedings]
- Friends of the Earth: Shell ordered to appear by Nigerian Court, 11 Apr 2006

Nigerian communities v. SPDC, Total, Agip, Chevron, Mobil, NNPC et al.
- [PDF] Plaintiffs’ complaint, 20 Jun 2005

Nigerian Communities v. SPDC, Total, Agip, Chevron, NNPC et al.,  Federal High Court of Nigeria in the Port Harcourt Judicial Division
- [PDF] Judgment of Port Harcourt High Court dismissing the plaintiffs’ action, 29 Sep 2006