Shell in court over Niger Delta oil spill claims

A Nigerian schoolboy walks past the logo of Dutch oil giant Shell near Warri in the volatile Niger-Delta region © George Esiri
London's High Court has begun a four-day hearing over Nigeria’s claims against Royal Dutch Shell and its subsidiary SPDC. They are accused of environmental damage caused by oil pollution.

Two legal claims have been brought to the court on behalf of over 40,000 Nigerians.

The Nigerian community of 2,335 people, mostly fishermen, say their environment has been devastated by oil spills in the past five years.

Another community which consists of roughly 40,000 people claim repeated oil spills from Shell’s pipelines have not been cleaned up.

In 2011 the United Nations Environmental Program exposed massive levels of pollution caused by oil spills from Shell pipelines in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta.

Shell insists the areas have been heavily impacted by crude oil theft, pipeline sabotage, and illegal refining. According to the company, those were the primary sources of pollution across the Niger Delta.

Under Nigerian law, the company isn’t required to pay compensation for spills caused by sabotage or theft.

The oil major argues that only its subsidiary should be held liable and that the cases should be heard in Nigeria where the incidents took place.

“The Bille and Ogale communities have chosen to bring these claims in the UK instead of in Nigeria, whose laws govern our operations. We believe that allegations concerning Nigerian plaintiffs in dispute with a Nigerian company [SPDC], over issues which took place in Nigeria, should be heard in Nigeria,” said Shell in a statement.

Last year, the company paid out about $80 million to compensate another Niger Delta community, admitting the spills were caused by operational failures.

In May, Nigeria’s federal government filed a $6.5 billion claim against Shell on behalf of 350 communities in the Delta and Bayelsa regional states.

The oil-rich Niger Delta has generated billions of dollars for the energy company over the past 60 years. Nigeria was one of its most productive areas for crude in 2015.

Home to 20 million people and 40 different ethnic groups, the Niger Delta is the largest wetland in Africa and contains one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet. The unique ecosystem also has more species of freshwater fish than anywhere else in West Africa.