Oil Spill: Amnesty, Shell Bicker Over Lawsuits …As Bille, Ogale Seek Legal Redress


The Amnesty International has said that Shell’s failure to maintain and protect pipelines may leave it liable to a raft of compensation claims from dozens of Niger Delta communities, Amnesty International said, yesterday, as London law firm, Leigh Day, announced two more lawsuits against Royal Dutch Shell.
The latest cases were filed, Tuesday, on behalf of Bille and Ogale communities in the Niger Delta which have been affected by oil pollution.
In its investor briefing, Shell’s growing liabilities in the Niger Delta: Lessons from the Bodo court case, Amnesty International warned Shell’s investors that failures in the way the oil giant inspects and reports on oil spills could mask the scale of potential financial liability arising for Shell.
But in a swift reaction, yesterday, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, disagreed with Amnesty International, and the two communities over the fresh cases filed outside the territory of Nigeria, where it operates.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), Bamidele Olugbenga Odugbesan, said: “We are at an early stage of reviewing the claims made by the Bille and Ogale communities.
“Both Bille and Ogale are areas heavily impacted by crude oil theft, pipeline sabotage and illegal refining which remain the main sources of pollution across the Niger Delta.
“Ogale is in Ogoniland and it is important to note that SPDC has produced no oil or gas in Ogoniland since 1993.  Access to the area has been limited following a rise in violence, threats to staff and attacks on facilities.
“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.”
“Furthermore, Ogoniland is the area covered by the United Nations Environment Programme’s Environmental Assessment (‘the UNEP report’) of 2011. UNEP presented its recommendations as an opportunity to bring a culture of multi-stakeholder cooperation to Ogoniland, a process in which SPDC has been involved.
“SPDC has also initiated action to address all the recommendations directed to it in the UNEP report as operator of the SPDC Joint Venture.  In mid-2015 SPDC JV, along with the government, UNEP and representatives of the Ogoni community, agreed to an 18-month roadmap to fast-track the environmental clean-up and remediation of Ogoniland which includes a governance framework.
“These steps have been widely lauded across civil society in Nigeria and have been welcomed by members of the Ogoni community itself.  Asking the English court to intervene and order remediation activity covering the same ground as the UNEP implementation plan, is a direct challenge to the internal political acts and decisions of the Nigerian State, and its sovereign right to determine, within its own territory, the appropriate future path for the Ogoni community,” the company said.
However, Amnesty International said that Shell has already paid out £55 million to the Bodo community after settling its claim out of court in January 2015.
It stated that the court documents from that case show that Shell admitted that it had underestimated the volume of oil spills in the region.
Shell had repeatedly asserted that the volume of oil spills was 4,000 barrels of oil affecting the Bodo community, while expert evidence put the volume of oil spilt in the region of 500,000 oil barrels.
Court documents also revealed that internal emails and reports showed that senior Shell employees had expressed concern as far back as in 2001 of the need to replace oil pipelines in the Niger Delta, describing some sections as containing “major risk and hazard”.
Amnesty International’s UK Economic Affairs Programme Director, Peter Frankental said: “Shell has an appalling record of obfuscation and misinformation with regard to its dealings in the Niger Delta. Our briefing reveals just how irresponsible Shell has been in its operations in the region.
“It’s disgraceful that Shell has to be dragged to the courts to address these issues. Surely time, money and the health, livelihoods and emotional anguish of the affected communities could have been spared had Shell simply accepted responsibility and cleaned up the oil spills quickly and thoroughly.
“We hope that the Bodo case and this new lawsuit will spur Shell on to accept its responsibilities by cleaning up the oil spills and compensating those in the Niger Delta whose lives have been devastated by them.”
Ogale is still affected by oil pollution from a spill that occurred in 2009, according to a report issued by Amnesty International in November 2015. When Amnesty international researchers visited the site of a 2009 oil spill in Ogale, they saw farmland and swamp heavily polluted, with black patches covering the ground, and a strong smell of oil.
Shell has failed to properly clean up the site, despite the fact that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported heavy pollution there – including high groundwater contamination – in its landmark 2011 report.
It would be recalled that in January, 2015, approximately 15,600 Bodo farmers and fishermen were to receive around £2000 each as part of Shell’s £55m pay-out for pollution caused by two oil spills in 2008 and 2009, which devastated the environment surrounding the community of Bodo, in Gokana Local Government Area, Rivers State, Nigeria.
Last January’s compensation package was the result of a three-year legal battle between the Bodo community represented by Leigh Day, and Shell.
Amnesty International’s briefing Shell’s growing liabilities in the Niger Delta: Lessons from the Bodo court case outlines findings of the preliminary judgement from the Bodo court case, and key contents of the documents filed in the UK court prior to the settlement.


Susan Serekara-Nwikhana