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:
- 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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All components of this story

Article
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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Article
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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Article
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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Article
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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Article
20 June 2014

Bodo Community & others v. Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd

Author: Justice Akenhead, Royal Courts of Justice (UK)

[Full text of the decision]

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Article
20 June 2014

London High Court rules that Shell Nigeria could be legally liable for bunkering

Author: Leigh Day

In a groundbreaking legal ruling, the London High Court today decided that Shell Nigeria could be legally liable for illegal bunkering of its pipelines, if it failed to take reasonable steps to protect its infrastructure. The judgment follows a ‘preliminary issues hearing’…which considered a range of complex legal arguments prior to a full trial in 2015. The central issue being argued was whether Shell should take reasonable steps to protect its infrastructure given the foreseeable risk of bunkering, illegal hacking into pipelines to steal the oil. This is the first time Shell has had to face formal Court proceedings in the UK for its environmental record in the Niger Delta.

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Article
20 June 2014

Nigeria: Shell could face fresh compensation claims after landmark environmental ruling

Author: Amnesty International

A landmark UK court ruling paves the way for Shell to finally be held accountable for devastating oil pollution in the Niger Delta, Amnesty International said today. “Today’s ruling is a shot across the bows for Shell” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Issues… In a judgment delivered by Mr Justice Akenhead, the London Technological and Construction Court found that short of providing policing or military defence of its pipelines, Shell was responsible for taking reasonable steps to protect them. This would include measures such as installing leak detection systems, surveillance equipment and anti-tamper equipment.

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Article
20 June 2014

Senior English judge delivers ruling in preliminary Bodo trial

Author: Shell Nigeria

The outcome of the Bodo preliminary issues trial has just been announced in London. A senior English judge ruled that the interpretation of Nigerian law by SPDC is correct in all the crucial points argued before the court. Mr Justice Akenhead accepted that the Nigerian Oil Pipelines Act provides a comprehensive and complete regime for compensation for oil spills. This decision limits the scope of the litigation to an assessment of actual damages sustained as a result of the operational spills. The Judge dismissed the attempts of the community’s UK legal representatives to add a range of additional claims over and above the compensation due under the clear Nigerian statutory regime.

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Article
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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Article
12 October 2014

Colombian farmers sue BP over oil pipeline’s alleged impact

Author: Jane Croft, Financial Times (UK)

BP is being sued for environmental damage that Colombian farmers allege the oil group caused to their land by building a pipeline. The case, which opens at the High Court this week, is being brought by 73 peasant farmers known as “campesinos”, who are seeking about £18m in compensation from the oil group. They claim that the British company Equion Energia (formerly BP Exploration (Colombia) Limited) negligently managed the construction of the Ocensa oil pipeline in Colombia during the mid-1990s – causing serious damage to their land…The trial is likely to be one of the largest environmental legal cases in recent years…The farmers…allege that the construction of the pipeline caused severe soil erosion, reduced vegetation coverage and blocked up or reduced vital water sources, thereby significantly reducing the productivity of their farms…BP said in a statement it was confident in its legal position and was defending the case vigorously. “The Ocensa pipeline project in Colombia involved significant steps being taken at the time of construction to engage with local communities, make appropriate compensation payments and ensure that the land the pipeline traversed suffered no material damage,” it said...[Also refers to Shell] 

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