Shell lawsuit (re oil spills & Bodo community in Nigeria)
Members 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
All components of this story
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.
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.
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…”…
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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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…
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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- Related companies: Ecopetrol Equion (former BP Colombia, now joint venture Ecopetrol & Repsol) OCENSA, Oleoducto Central SA (Parte de Ecopetrol) Shell
Author: Justice Akenhead, Royal Courts of Justice (UK)
[Full text of the decision]
- Related stories: Shell lawsuit (re oil spills & Bodo community in Nigeria)
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.
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.
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.