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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13 November 2014

Shell 'warned Nigeria pipeline could leak before spills'

Author: Howard Mustoe, BBC (UK)

Two spills in 2008 affected about 35 sq miles (90 sq km) in southern Nigeria, according to a group suing Shell…Shell "dismisses the suggestion that it has knowingly continued to use a pipeline that is not safe to operate,"…The emails, letters and internal reports submitted to a court in London show that senior Shell employees were concerned before the spill that Shell's pipelines in the area had reached the end of their lives and needed replacing to avoid danger to lives, the environment and the economy…"The decision by Shell to continue pumping oil through pipelines which they knew were not fit for purpose is quite shocking," said Martyn Day, a senior partner at Leigh Day, the lawyers representing the community filing the claim…

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17 November 2014

Shell Lied to Dutch Court About Oil Spills in Nigeria, Say Friends of the Earth

Author: Amelia Smith, Newsweek

The oil company Shell lied to a Dutch court about steps taken to minimize the risk of oil spills during a court case brought against the…company by four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth, lawyers acting for the claimants alleged today…During the case,…Shell’s lawyer said that the oil company had taken precautionary steps to avoid oil spills…, including the installation of a leak detection system… However, according to lawyers representing the farmers, documents revealed in the UK’s High Court this year have shown that there was in fact no leak detection system in place and [Shell] had consistently ignored calls from its own staff to replace the pipeline…A spokesman for the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC) said: “We strongly refute any suggestion that SPDC has knowingly submitted false or misleading information to the Dutch court…”

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7 January 2015

Long-awaited victory as Shell finally pays out £55 million over Niger Delta oil spills

Author: Amnesty International

“While the pay-out is a long awaited victory for the thousands of people who lost their livelihoods in Bodo, it shouldn’t have taken six years to get anything close to fair compensation,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International. 

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7 January 2015

Niger Delta communities hit by oil spills to instigate more claims in London against oil firms, say civil society actors

Author: John Vidal, Guardian (UK)

“Niger delta communities to sue Shell in London for oil spill compensation,” 7 Jan 2015

Niger delta communities hit by oil spills will bypass Nigerian courts and try to sue Shell and other oil companies in London following the…settlement awarded…to…people in Bodo, say community chiefs and non-government groups…“…Shell…are a big company and if we go to the Nigerian courts, they will win,” said Abere [a Bonny island community leader]...“Communities will now look to London for justice. In Nigeria they know they cannot get redress. People get no individual compensation…,” said Akpobari [who works with…Social Action]. The tendency of Nigerian courts to side with oil companies when they appeal against lower court awards was acknowledged by an oil company source who said…: “It is not unusual for large awards to be made against companies in the Nigerian courts but often they are overturned on appeal...” Leigh Day say…they plan to investigate four other pollution claims against Shell because the English court system is fairer...

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7 January 2015

Nigeria: Shell agrees to compensate communities affected by two oil spills

Author: William Wallis, Financial Times

"Royal Dutch Shell agrees $83M Nigeria oil spill settlement"

Royal Dutch Shell is to pay tens of millions of pounds in compensation to 15,000 Nigerian fishermen affected by two huge oil spills. The out of court deal, believed to be the biggest of its kind, ends a three year legal battle. The Anglo-Dutch oil company has agreed payouts averaging £2,000 each to the fishermen in the Bodo region of the Niger delta, as part of a compensation package worth £55 million ($83 million) for what it called two "highly regrettable" spills in 2008...The deal settles a lawsuit brought against Shell in London over leaks in the Bomu-Bonny pipeline that caused environmental damage to rural coastal settlements of 49,000 people living in 35 villages, many of whom are subsistence farmers and fishermen...Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of SPDC, said it was "pleased" to have reached agreement and clean-up work would begin soon. Human rights group Amnesty International called the settlement "an important victory for the victims of corporate negligence".


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Author: France 24

« Des pêcheurs nigérians obtiennent gain de cause face au géant pétrolier Shell », 7 janvier 2015

Le groupe pétrolier Shell s'est engagé à verser 70 millions d'euros pour indemniser les 15 600 pêcheurs nigérians touchés par deux importantes fuites de pétrole en 2008. Cet accord met fin à trois années de bataille juridique…La filiale au Nigeria du géant néerlando-britannique, SPDC, a accepté de verser 35 millions de livres aux plaignants, des pêcheurs de la communauté de Bodo, au sud du Nigeria, et 20 millions de livres à la municipalité…Chacun des 15 600 pêcheurs, qui réclamaient une compensation pour les pertes subies par deux fuites dans le pipeline du groupe dans le delta du Niger, recevra 2 200 livres, soit l'équivalent d'environ trois années de salaire minimum au Nigeria…Indépendamment de l'accord annoncé mercredi, SPDC s'est engagé à nettoyer la zone polluée par les fuites de 2008. Ce nettoyage devrait commencer dans deux ou trois mois…

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7 January 2015

Nigeria: Shell's N15 Billion Settlement to Ogoni Community "Inadequate"

Author: Ben Ezeamalu, Premium Times (Nigeria)

…Shell's agreement to pay £55 million…to…fishermen in…Ogoniland is not commensurate with the disaster…on the area…[t]he Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, said…"When compared to what polluting oil companies pay elsewhere for their ecological crimes, HOMEF sees the compensation…as inadequate for the severity of damage done"…Shell's Managing Director said…"We've always wanted to compensate the community fairly and we are pleased to have reached agreement…" Shell also said it would begin clean up of the sites immediately. HOMEF, however, welcomed Shell's agreement to pay the penalty noting that it was a confirmation of their guilt…"Since the oil companies do not respect fines imposed on them by Nigerian regulatory agencies…this decision should encourage other communities to bring up cases against Shell and other oil companies operating in the Nigeria…and other countries," said…a member of the international Advisory Board of HOMEF…"A safe environment is a foundational basis for human survival," the group said...

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7 January 2015

Shell agrees £55m compensation deal for Niger Delta community

Author: Leigh Day

Oil-giant Shell have agreed a compensation package of £55m to compensate 15,600 Nigerian fishermen and their community after it was devastated by two massive oil spills in the Niger Delta in 2008 and 2009. Today’s announcement follows a three-year legal battle by the Nigerian’s lawyers, London based law firm Leigh Day, in the High Court in London following the spills which devastated the environment surrounding the community of Bodo, in Gokana Local Government Area, Rivers State, Nigeria. Each member of the community impacted by the oil spill will each receive approximately 600,000 Nigerian Naira (£2,200)...The total cost of the compensation package agreed with Shell is £55m being split £35m for the individuals and £20m for the community and is thought to be one of the largest payouts to an entire community following environmental damage....In the aftermath of the spills Shell originally offered £4,000 (four thousand pounds GBP) compensation to the entire Bodo community before the villagers sought legal representation from lawyers in London, where Shell have their headquarters...The lawyer representing the claimants, Martyn Day from Leigh Day, said: ...“Whilst we are delighted for our clients, and pleased that Shell has done the decent thing I have to say that it is deeply disappointing that Shell took six years to take this case seriously and to recognise the true extent of the damage these spills caused to the environment and to the those who rely on it for their livelihood...."...Chief Sylvester Kogbara, Chairman of the Bodo Council of Chiefs and Elders, said: “For now, the Bodo community is very happy that this case has been finally laid to rest. The hope is that this will forge a good relationship with Shell for the future, not only with the Bodo people but with all the Niger Delta communities that have been impacted in the same way as us.

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7 January 2015

Shell announces £55m payout for Nigeria oil spills

Author: John Vidal, The Guardian

British banks will start to transfer 600,000 naira (about £2,100) into each of the local people’s accounts and the community will be given millions to build health clinics and refurbish its schools... The settlement, split £35m for individuals and £20m for the Bodo community, avoids Shell having to defend a potentially embarrassing London high court case which was due to start shortly. It is thought to be the largest payout to any African community following environmental damage and the first time that compensation for an oil spill has been paid directly to affected individuals rather than to local chiefs.

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7 January 2015

Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary agrees £55 million settlement with the Bodo community

Author: Shell

Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC), has today announced a £55 million settlement agreement with the Bodo community in respect of the two highly regrettable operational spills in 2008. The £55 million settlement provides for an individual payment to each claimant who accepts the settlement agreement in compensation for losses arising from the spills, amounting to up to £35 million in total. The remaining £20 million payment will be made for the benefit of the Bodo community generally. “From the outset, we’ve accepted responsibility for the two deeply regrettable operational spills in Bodo. We’ve always wanted to compensate the community fairly and we are pleased to have reached agreement,” said Mutiu Sunmonu, Managing Director of SPDC. We are fully committed to the clean-up process being overseen by the former Netherlands’ Ambassador to Nigeria…However, unless real action is taken to end the scourge of oil theft and illegal refining, which remains the main cause of environmental pollution and is the real tragedy of the Niger Delta, areas that are cleaned up will simply become re-impacted through these illegal activities…”…

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