SHELL is facing two new damages claims from communities in Nigeria who say their lives have been blighted by the company’s oil spills in the region.
Legal firm Leigh Day, which represented Nigeria’s Bodo Community in its successful claim for damages in January last year, will now represent the Ogale Community and the Bille Kingdom in two separate cases filed at the High Court in London, UK.
Ogale is in Rivers State and has a population of around 40,000. Residents are traditionally farmers and fisherman, but say that their land and waterways have been badly damaged by oil spills which began in 1989. A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) investigation in 2010 found an estimated 87,500 bbl of oil remaining at one spill site. The region was named in UNEP’s 2011 Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland which reported results of an investigation into oil spills in the region. Groundwater was found to contain 1,000 times the legal limit of oil, meaning that the area effectively had no drinking water. UNEP made several recommendations to Shell, including provision of immediate drinking water supplies and emergency cleanup operations. However, four years on, the plaintiffs say nothing has been done towards cleanup and the drinking water supply is inconsistent.
'Shell have polluted our land and our streams and drinking wells for years. Even when the UNEP report suggested that something urgent should be done, Shell did not even come to see our community or to talk to us. No-one is listening to us, no-one cares. We hope at last this case will force Shell to clean up at long last,' said HRH Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, the Paramount Ruler of Ogale.
The Bille Kingdom is also in Rivers State, and is home to about 13,000 people, who rely on fishing. They say repeated leaks from the Nembe Creek Trunkline have ruined their livelihoods, and their homes, which lie very close to the polluted waterways. 13,200 ha of mangrove has been destroyed. Although Shell repaired the Bille section of the pipeline in 2010, the residents say the company did not install leak detection systems, which can detect and therefore help to prevent leaks and third-party interference.
The main thrust of the legal action will be to determine whether Shell is liable for failing to protect its pipelines from third parties. The company has argued in the past that it is not responsible for leaks occurring as a result of pipeline vandalism and oil thefts. In the previous action for the Bodo Community, it was decided that Shell was legally liable where it was determined that the company had failed to protect its pipelines sufficiently.
As a result, the Bodo Community received £55m (US$83m) from Shell, the equivalent of £2,200 per person, a lot of money where the average monthly wage is around £65, and an additional £20m to the community as a whole. The court case, however, took some time as Shell continued to dispute the amount of oil spilled and how much compensation it should pay.
Leigh Day partner Daniel Leader has suggested that the new claims could cost Shell a similar amount, and said that it is 'scandalous' that Shell continues to fail to clean up the spills.
'Given the extent of the damage, we believe that the cleanup costs for both communities will run into several hundred million pounds. The claims from the thousands of individuals affected by this pollution could run into tens of millions of pounds given the impact on these communities,' he added.
A Shell spokesperson told The Chemical Engineer that the company is in the early stages of reviewing the claims. Its Nigerian business, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) has not produced oil in Ogoniland since 1993. While the company agrees that the area is heavily polluted, this is due to crude oil theft, sabotage and illegal refining, while violence and attacks on staff and facilities have limited its access to the region.
'The Bille and Ogale communities have chosen to bring these claims in the UK instead of in Nigeria, whose laws govern our operations.?It is our intention to contest the jurisdiction of the English court over these claims.?We believe that allegations concerning Nigerian plaintiffs in dispute with a Nigerian company, over issues which took place within Nigeria, should be heard in Nigeria,' said the spokesperson in a statement.
The statement adds that SPDC has initiated action to address the recommendations and agreed an 18-month roadmap with the Ogoni community to fast-track remediation work. It accuses the plaintiffs of undermining the Nigerian state and 'its sovereign right to determine, within its own territory, the appropriate future path for the Ogoni community.
The first hearing of the claims took place earlier today but a conclusion is not expected soon.
Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.