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Gas flaring lawsuit (re oil companies in Nigeria)

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 subsdiaries 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. While some were dismissed or unable to proceed after the case file was lost, the lawsuit against Chevron resulted in a confidential out of court settlement.


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.  

On 30 November 2005, Jonah Gbemre (representing the Iwherekan community) brought a claim against Shell Petroleum Development Company Nigeria (SPDC) and NNPC in the Benin Judicial Division of the Federal Court of Nigeria.  The plaintiff alleges that gas flaring violates the right to life and human dignity guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution and the African Charter.  The plaintiff further claims that gas flaring negatively impacts human health, the environment, food, water and housing.  The defendants filed several applications delaying the proceedings.  On 14 November 2005, the court issued a judgment confirming that gas flaring violates the right to life and dignity of person.  The court ordered the defendants to take immediate steps to stop gas flaring in the community.  The defendants appealed the judgment. On 16 December 2006, contempt of court proceedings were filed against SPDC and NNPC.  Shell held that it was not in contempt of court as it had several outstanding appeals in the case.  On 11 April 2006, the Court ordered SPDC and NNPC to end flaring by April 2007 and ordered the managing director of SPDC and NNPC as well as government officials to appear in court on 31 May 2006 to present a programme for stopping gas flaring in the community.  The plaintiffs’ legal counsel reported that on 31 May 2006, the judge in the case had been removed from the court in Benin and the file of the case could not be located. 

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.

In another lawsuit, members of the Ugborodo community in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State, Nigeria, allege that Chevron’s Nigerian subsidiary (Chevron Nigeria Limited) is liable for environmental and other damages caused by the company’s gas flaring.  This lawsuit was filed in the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Asaba Judicial Division.  These villagers used the US federal Foreign Legal Assistance statute to file a lawsuit in US court in 2012 seeking to compel Chevron to provide environmental records on the impact of gas flaring in Nigeria to assist with their litigation in Nigerian court.  In June 2014 the villagers dismissed their US case after reaching a confidential settlement with Chevron.

- “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
- EarthRights International: Chevron settles with Nigerian villagers seeking information on gas flaring harms, 16 Jun 2014
- 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

 Jonah Gbemre representing the Iwherekan Community v. Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation et al., Federal High Court of Nigeria in the Benin Judicial Division
- [PDF] Court Order requiring corporate defendants to refrain from further gas flaring, 15 Nov 2005
- [PDF] Judgment of Benin High Court, 14 Nov 2005
- [DOC] Plaintiff’s complaint for declaration of the right to life, in relation to gas flaring, 11 Jul 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

[PDF] In re Application of Theophilus G. Metsagharun, et al. - application for discovery pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1782 [application filed by Nigerian plaintiffs in US District Court for the Northern District of California], 29 Nov 2012

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