Shell lawsuit (re oil spills & Bodo community in Nigeria)

Woman & child in Niger Delta near shore & water damaged by oil spill - credit: Leigh DayMembers of the Bodo community in Nigeria filed a lawsuit against Shell in London High Court on 23 March 2012, seeking compensation for two oil spills, which occurred in 2008 and 2009 in the Niger Delta.  The 15,000 plaintiffs ask for compensation for losses suffered to their health, livelihoods and land, and they ask for clean-up of the oil pollution.  They allege that the relevant pipelines caused spills because they were over 50 years old and poorly maintained, and that Shell reacted too slowly after being alerted to the spills.  Shell admits that its Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), is liable for the spills.  However, it denies the allegations of the plaintiffs and argues that the cause of the oil spills was oil theft and sabotage.  It further disputes the alleged volume of oil spilled and the size of the area affected.

Shell has made settlement offers to the plaintiffs, which they refused on the basis that they were too low in light of the alleged damages suffered.

A preliminary hearing took place from 29 April to 9 May 2014 to consider Shell’s duty to take reasonable steps to prevent spillage from their pipelines – whether from malfunction or from oil theft.  The judge ruled on 20 June 2014 that Shell could be held responsible for spills from their pipelines if the company fails to take reasonable measures to protect them from malfunction or from oil theft (known as “bunkering”).  In November 2014, it was revealed that documents produced in the UK High Court suggested that Shell had been warned about the “risk and hazard” of the pipeline before the oil spill that affected the Bodo community.  Shell "dismisses the suggestion that it has knowingly continued to use a pipeline that is not safe to operate". 

In January 2015, Shell accepted its responsibility and agreed to a £55 million out of court settlement to pay for cleaning up the spill. An internationally recognized clean-up operation, the Bodo Mediation Initiative sponsored by the Dutch Government, was also established. In turn, communities agreed to put a hold on an onoing legal claim they had brought in the London High Court, but nonetheless reserved the right to resume the claim should the clean up be inadequately conducted.

In June 2017, Shell tried to strike out the lawsuit alleging that some members of the community obstructed clean up. The Court dismissed the claim. Shell then sought to prevent the community from going back to court by requesting to include a clause in the settlement, according to which any disruptive act by any resident of the Bodo community would lead to termination of the lawsuit. On 24 May 2018, a UK judge ruled that the Bodo community should retain the right to revive the claim for another year with no conditions attached, in the event of the clean-up not be completed to an adequate standard.

- "Nigeria's Bodo community claims win over Shell after latest UK court ruling", Estelle Shirbon, Reuters via Thomson Reuters Foundation, 24 May 2018
- "Shell announces £55m payout for Nigeria oil spills", John Vidal, Guardian (UK), 7 jan 2015
-“Shell in preliminary Nigeria oil spill judgement”, BBC News, 20 Jun 2014
- “Niger delta oil spill victims reject 'derisory' Shell compensation offer”, John Vidal, Guardian (UK), 13 Sep 2013
- “Shell seeks settlement for Nigeria oil spill”, Sarah Kent, Dow Jones Newswires, 06 Sep 2013
- “Shell 'uses sabotage claims to avoid blame for Nigeria oil spills'”, Tom Bawden, Independent (UK), 19 Jun 2013
- “Shell accepts liability for two oil spills in Nigeria”, John Vidal, Guardian (UK), 3 August 2011
- “[PDF] The true tragedy: delays and failures in tackling oil spills in the Niger Delta”,  Amnesty Intl. & Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), Nov 2011

- Shell's Nigerian subsidiary agrees £55 million settlement with the Bodo community, Shell, 7 Jan 2015
- Senior English judge delivers ruling in preliminary Bodo trial, Shell Nigeria, 20 Jun 2014
- [DOC] Open letter on oil spills from the Managing Director of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC), Managing Director of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), 04 Aug 2011

Leigh Day (lawyers for the plaintiffs):
- Shell agrees £55m compensation deal for Niger Delta community, 7 Jan 2015
- London High Court rules that Shell Nigeria could be legally liable for bunkering, 20 Jun 2014
- Background to the Bodo claim, 25 Apr 2014
- [PDF] Leigh Day & Co 2012 Annual Review, Dec 2012 [see p.23]

Royal Courts of Justice:
- Bodo Community & others v. Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd, 20 Jun 2014

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20 June 2014

Shell in preliminary Nigeria oil spill judgement

Author: BBC News

Anglo-Dutch oil giant shell is braced to pay up to £30m in compensation after two oil spills in Nigeria. Residents of the Bodo community in the Niger Delta represented by law firm Leigh Day filed a suit in 2011. They lodged a claim for more than £300m in compensation for the spilling of 500,000 barrels of oil. Shell's offer from September 2013 to settle remained on the table, a source said. Leigh Day after the judgement said the High Court found Shell had a responsibility to shield and care for the pipeline…Shell said in a statement that the judgement "limits the scope of the litigation to an assessment of actual damages sustained as a result of the operational spills."

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25 April 2014

Background to the Bodo claim [UK/Nigeria]

Author: Leigh Day

Following two enormous oil spills that occurred in Bodo in late 2008, Leigh Day is bringing a claim in the High Court to ensure that members of the Bodo community receive adequate compensation for the damage caused by the oil spills and to ensure that the…area is properly cleaned up and remediated…Shell has accepted that it was responsible for both…spills but says that the volume of oil spilt was about 4,000 barrels and that only 36 hectares were impacted. [The] pipelines…are nearly 50 years old and have not been maintained or inspected properly…Both spills continued to pour oil out into the environment for weeks even after [Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC)] had been alerted to the oil spills… The Bodo community that has been devastated by these oil spills is one of the poorest in the world...SPDC has still not offered an acceptable amount of compensation to this impoverished community…

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13 September 2013

Niger delta oil spill victims reject 'derisory' Shell compensation offer

Author: John Vidal, Guardian (UK)

Niger delta communities devastated by giant oil spills from rusting Shell pipelines have unanimously rejected a compensation offer from the company, calling it an insult, and cruel and derisory. A court in London is now likely to decide how much the…firm should pay 11,000 fishermen and others from the Bodo community who lost their livelihoods when the 50-year-old Shell-operated trans-Niger pipeline burst twice within a few months in 2008…Martyn Day, a partner with…Leigh Day who represented the those communities, said Shell's offer was rejected unanimously at a large public meeting in Bodo…A [Shell] spokesman said: "We took part in this week's settlement negotiations with two objectives – to make a generous offer of compensation to those who have suffered hardship as a result of the two highly regrettable operational spills in 2008, and to make progress in relation to cleanup."

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6 September 2013

Shell seeks settlement for Nigeria oil spill

Author: Sarah Kent, Dow Jones Newswires

Negotiations between Royal Dutch Shell PLC and the lawyers representing 15,000 Nigerians claiming compensation for two oil spills that occurred in the Niger Delta in 2008 are set to begin…Shell is facing a lawsuit in London's High Court over the two spills that affected the environment surrounding the Bodo fishing community in the country's oil-rich Niger Delta five years ago. Shell's Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, has admitted liability for the spills, but the two sides disagree on the size of the spills and how much compensation is due…"We will…ensure that Shell pay out a fair amount for the damage they have caused and put the Bodo Creek back into its pre-spill state," said Martyn Day, the lawyer…representing the claimants…. A spokesman for Shell's SPDC said the company was hopeful an acceptable settlement could be reached next week. "...[O]ur goal now is resolution, not recrimination," he said.

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22 March 2012

Shell faces claim over Niger delta spills

Author: Jane Croft, Financial Times

Lawyers representing 11,000 Nigerians will on Friday serve the details of a claim against Royal Dutch Shell at the High Court after negotiations about compensation for two oil spills in the Niger delta fell apart last week. The lawsuit against Shell relates to two oil spills in 2008, which caused damage to the Bodo community, a rural coastal settlement that consists of 49,000 people who live in 35 villages and are subsistence farmers and fishermen...negotiations broke down last week and Leigh Day has now recommenced its legal action and will on Friday serve its particulars of claim.

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