Jan 30, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – The Hague Court of Appeal yesterday ordered the Nigerian subsidiary of energy giant; Shell, to provide compensation for oil leaks in the Niger Delta that damaged the lands of farmers in villages of Oruma and Goi back in 2004 and 2005.
That ruling is one that may very well pave the way for new lawsuits against multinational oil companies who operate with an aura of “untouchability” as both Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited and the Dutch-based mother company, Royal Dutch Shell, were held liable for the spills.
Industry stakeholders who followed the matter for years have said that such a ruling is one that Guyana should pay keen attention to, since it is yet to obtain full coverage insurance for ExxonMobil’s Liza Phase One and Payara projects.
The Hague Appeal Court ruling was deemed a victory for environmentalists and especially the Nigerians, whose lands were polluted by the oil. Donald Pols, Director of one of the world’s largest grassroots environmental network, Friends of the Earth, hailed the ruling as a needed victory “for small communities hurt by huge companies.”
It was the Netherlands chapter of Pols’ organization, which had taken the civil case to court back in 2008.
“Up until this morning (yesterday), Dutch multinationals could act with impunity in developing countries and this has changed now,” Pols said, adding that “From this moment onwards, Dutch multinationals will be held accountable for their activities and their actions in developing countries. And that’s an enormous victory for the rights of law globally.”
One of the farmers involved in the case, Eric Dooh, called the decision a victory “for the entire Niger Delta region. The victory is for the Ogoni people. Victory for all that stood by our side, both Blacks and Whites.”
During the trial, Friends of the Earth lawyers had told the Dutch court that leaking pipes were caused by poor maintenance and inadequate security and that Shell does not do enough to clean up spills.
The Hague Court of Appeal held the oil multinational liable for the spills that spewed oil over a two mile radius in the two villages as the company could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the leaks were caused by damage done by oil thieves rather than its own negligence.
According to Nigerian law, which was applied in the Dutch civil case, the company would not be held responsible if the leaks were as a result of saboteurs.
The Dutch court also ruled that while sabotage was behind another oil leak in a nearby village, whether Shell was being held liable or not “remains open” as the court seeks clarity on the extent of the ensued damages and whether it can be cleaned.
That case will continue at a later date.
In addition, to compensating the farmers, the Hague Appeal Court also ordered that Royal Dutch Shell must fit a leak-detection system to a pipeline that caused one of the spills. The amount of compensation paid to three farmers in the villages will be established at a later date.
Even after the clear ruling, Shell Nigeria expressed disappointment and continued to maintain that the oil spills were as a result of sabotage.
The company said, “Sabotage, crude oil theft, and illegal refining are a major challenge in the Niger Delta. Indeed, in 2019, around 95% of spill incidents from our operations there were due to such criminal acts. Regardless of cause, we clean up and remediate, as we have done with the spills in this case.”
The Nigerian subsidiary further added that “Like all Shell-operated ventures globally, we are committed to operating safely and protecting the local environment.”
Back in 2013, the Hague District Court had ordered Shell Nigeria to compensate one of the four farmers in the case for making it unchallenging for saboteurs to open a well head that leaked onto his land.
At the same time, the court cleared the oil company of blame for polluting the other three farmers’ land, ruling that Shell’s Dutch parent company could not be held liable. But, after both sides appealed the judgment, judges ruled in 2015 that Shell could be held liable for its actions in Nigeria.
The judges had also mandated that Shell provide access to documents that told the true story of the cause of the leaks and how much management knew about them.
Shell has faced heavy criticism from activists and local communities over numerous oil spills and the company’s close ties with government’s security forces ever since it began exploiting Nigeria’s vast oil reserves in the late 1950s.
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