About 13,000 Nigerians and seventeen (17) institutions including churches and schools, resident in Ogale and Bille, two oil rich communities in Rivers State have filed a case in the UK High Court seeking compensation from Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, SDPC, over oil spill and environmental damage responsible for loss of livelihoods and damage against.
EnergyDay gathered that residents of the Ogale and Bille communities have been engaged in the lawsuit against the Dutch oil giant for seven years.
SDPC had in the past argued that the oil pollution lawsuit filed against it by the two communities in Rivers State, be heard in the Nigerian Court, insisting that the case was outside the UK’s legal jurisdiction.
However, the UK Supreme Court in a landmark ruling on February 12, 2021, granted the request of the communities to pursue legal action against Shell in English courts over the oil spills by its subsidiary.
In a case filed by the Daniel Leader, partner at the law firm Leigh Day, representing the two communities in the UK Court, said that the case raises important questions about the responsibilities of oil and gas companies.
He said, “It appears that Shell is seeking to leave the Niger Delta free of any legal obligation to address the environmental devastation caused by oil spills from its infrastructure over many decades.
“At a time when the world is focused on ‘the just transition,’ this raises profound questions about the responsibility of fossil fuel companies for legacy and ongoing environmental pollution.
“The next stage in the case is for a case management hearing to be set in Spring 2023, ahead of the full trial which is likely to occur the following year,” Daniel Leader said in a statement.
Reacting to the case SDPC’s spokesperson said that Shell has filed a legal defence in which they claim that the Ogale and Bille communities cannot force the company to carry out a clean-up. Only the Nigerian authorities have the right to do so.
He said, “The majority of spills and claims concerning the two communities in Rivers State, were caused by illegal third-party interference, including pipeline vandals. He disclosed that despite this, his company would continue cleaning affected areas.
According to him, Shell believes litigations do little to addressing the real issues in the Niger Delta.
“The oil spills were caused by activities of crude oil theft, illegal refining and sabotage, with which SPDC is constantly faced and which cause the most environmental damage,” the spokesperson said.
There have been thousands of reported oil spills in the Niger Delta in the past, majorly attributed to obsolete or poorly maintained piping and crude oil theft linked to Niger Delta militants and freedom fighters.
SPDC which first discovered oil in the Delta in 1956, had in the past acknowledged that 1,010 cases of pipeline leaks occurred on its facilities since 2011, estimated at about 17.5m litres of spilled oil.
The oil giant also agreed to the legal obligations for the clean-up of spills linked to its infrastructure, “regardless of the cause”.
The Court of Appeal of the Hague had in a ruling in January 2021 ordered SPDC to pay damages to four farmers for oil spills that occurred in Goi and Oruma communities of the Niger Delta region. The Court asked SDPC to conduct an intensive clean-up of the damage to the communities.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) first recommended an extensive clean-up in 2011, after a three-year study demonstrated how the Ogoni people were exposed to severe oil contamination on a daily basis, impacting their water sources, air quality, and farmland.
UNEP concluded there was “an immediate danger to public health”. However, 12 years on, the Ogale and Bille communities, along with many others in the region, remain polluted and residents are still drinking from poisoned wells.
The recent litigation against the plan by the Royal Dutch Shell to sell off its onshore and shallow water assets, being managed by its Nigerian unit, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).
The entire assets are valued for around $2.3 billion, after Shell had made over 80 years of profitable operations in the Niger Delta region.
Shell had in a report seen by EnergyDay said its onshore operations in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry were no longer compatible with its long-term climate strategy, coming under increasing pressure from investors to slash emissions and pivot toward cleaner energy.
Ben van Beurden, Royal Dutch Shell’s Chief Executive Officer, told investors that the additional community issues in the Niger Delta were becoming a huge challenge for the company.