Shell lawsuit (re oil pollution in Nigeria)
The plaintiffs (four Nigerian farmers) filed suit in 2008 against Shell in The Netherlands, where Royal Dutch Shell (the parent company) is headquartered. The plaintiffs filed three separate lawsuits, each one addressing the impact of oil spillages in the three villages – Oruma, Goi and Ikot Ada Udo. In January 2021, the Dutch Court of Appeal held Shell Nigeria liable for damage caused by the oil spills. Royal Dutch Shell was held to owe a duty of care to affected villagers and liable for a failure to prevent future oil spills.
The Oruma lawsuit claims that oil spillages occurred on 26 June 2005 and that Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (“Shell Nigeria”) (Shell’s Nigerian operating company) only closed the hole in the pipeline on 29 June 2005. Allegedly, the oil flowed into plaintiffs’ farmland and fishponds, polluting it and making it unfit for use. The plaintiffs further claim that the clean-up started in November 2005 and that neither the environment near Oruma nor their oil-polluted property has been adequately cleaned by Shell Nigeria. With regard to the allegations of negligence, the suit argues that Shell Nigeria acted negligently by allowing the oil spill to occur, or at least it did not prevent or limit it, and did not adequately clear the oil. Plaintiffs also allege that Shell plc (the parent company) was negligent because it did not ensure that its subsidiary carried out oil production in Nigeria in a careful manner, although it was able and obligated to do so. The other two lawsuits make similar claims regarding oil spillages in Goi and Ikot Ada Udo.
On 13 May 2009 Shell submitted a motion to the court arguing that the Dutch courts lacked jurisdiction over the actions of the Nigerian subsidiary. On 8 July 2009 the plaintiffs filed their Statement of Defence to the Motion Contesting Jurisdiction at the Hague district court. On 30 December 2009, the Hague district court ruled that it did have jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ case. On 24 March 2010, former Shell Transport and Trading Company and Dutch Shell Petroleum N.V. (Shell’s Dutch subsidiary) were added as defendants after Shell argued that it cannot be held responsible for actions of its predecessors. Lawyers for the plaintiffs requested the defendants to disclose relevant internal documents.
On 16 June 2010, Shell denied plaintiffs’ request for disclosure of internal documents, stating it cannot be forced to and is not able to provide them. Shell appeared in court to respond to the plaintiffs' allegations in October 2012.
On 30 January 2013 the Dutch court issued a decision ordering Shell to pay compensation to one of the farmers, but it dismissed the balance of the claims. In December 2015, a Dutch appeals court reversed its dismissal and permitted the balance of the claims to go forward. The appeals court also ruled that Shell must grant the claimants access to certain internal company documents essential to the case.
On 29 January 2021, the Dutch Court of Appeal held that Shell Nigeria was responsible for two oil spills in Niger Delta, and liable to pay compensation. The court held that Royal Dutch Shell owes a duty of care to the villagers affected by the oil spill and is liable (together with Shell Nigeria) to install a leak detection system and for any failure to prevent future oil spills. The Ikot Ada Udo lawsuit was not ruled on as the court will assess whether the acts of sabotage argued by Royal Dutch Shell can be established on the facts. For a summary of the decision by the Netherlands court, see here.
- "Dutch appeals court says Shell may be held liable for oil spills in Nigeria", Reuters, 18 Dec 2015
- "Dutch court says Shell partly responsible for Nigeria spills", Ivana Sekularac & Anthony Deutsch, Reuters, 30 Jan 2013
- "Nigerian villagers sue Shell in landmark pollution case", Ivana Sekularac & Anthony Deutsch, Reuters, 11 Oct 2012
- "Pollution: Dutch court to hear Nigerians suit against Shell", Chika Amanze-Nwachuku, ThisDay [Nigeria] 2 Oct 2012
- [video] "Fight continues for Nigeria oil spill victims", Al Jazeera English, 8 Jun 2010
- “Shell must face Friends of the Earth Nigeria claim in Netherlands”, Terry Macalister, Guardian [UK], 30 Dec 2009
- [video] "Dutch court takes on Shell oil case", Reuters, 30 Dec 2009
- “Farmers sue Shell over oil spills in Niger Delta”, Sarah Arnott, Independent [UK], 3 Dec 2009
- [Dutch, PDF] "The people of Nigeria versus Shell: De eerste zitting van de rechtszaak", Friends of the Earth Netherlands/Milieudefensie, Dec 2009
- “Shell Sued in the Netherlands For Oil Spills in Nigeria”, Africanoiljournal.com, 11 Sep 2008
- Doing business in Nigeria: challenges and questions
- Preventing spills
- Shell Nigeria: Remediation Issues in the Niger Delta
Friends of the Earth Netherlands/Milieudefensie [plaintiffs]:
- Outcome appeals against Shell: victory for the Nigerian people and the environment, 18 Dec 2015
- [PDF] Factsheet: The people of Nigeria versus Shell, Apr 2011
- The People of Nigeria versus Shell
- Documents on Shell legal case
- Nigerians file oil lawsuit against Shell in the Netherlands, 5 Nov 2008
Environmental Rights Action, Friends of the Earth Nigeria:
- Press Release-Shell faces legal action over Nigerian Pollution, 15 May 2008
- [PDF] Friday Alfred Akpan v Shell, District Court of the Hague, 30 Jan 2013
- [PDF] Fidelis Ayoro Oguru v Shell plc, District Court of the Hague, 14 Sep 2011 [Judgment in ancillary actions]
- [PDF, English translation] Oguru and Ofanga v Shell plc, Summons