After thirteen long years a group of Nigerian farmers are finally receiving compensation for oil leak damages. More than 15 years ago, two oil leaks polluted a pair of Nigerian villages under Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), a subsidiary of the British-Dutch energy corporation Shell Energy Retail, Ltd.
On Friday, Jan. 29, the Dutch Court of Appeal in Hague ruled that SPDC was at fault for “environmental degradation caused by pipeline leaks” in Oruma, Goi, and Ikot Ada Udo villages in the Niger Delta region according to Al Jazeera. The court ordered an undistinguished amount to be paid to the villages by the large British-Dutch company.
The leaks in the Niger Delta region spewed oil over a total area of around 60 soccer fields in Oruma and Goi.
A member of the group of plaintiffs, an 80-year-old farmer named Oguru, told Al Jazeera that pipeline leaks “have devastated farmland and waterways in the region” over the past decade and a half. SPDC remained reluctant to replace old pipelines over time, forcing farmers to watch helplessly as their crops died and their livelihoods withered away. Numerous and frequent appeals to SPDC by the villages for compensation and environmental clean-up had been ignored.
After receiving support from an environmental campaign group, Friends of the Earth Netherlands, the villages of Oruma, Goi, and Ikot Ada Udo filed lawsuits against Shell Energy Retail, Ltd. in 2008 in a Dutch court.
SPDC and other oil companies often blame oil leaks on sabotage; under Nigerian law, Shell could not be held liable if the oil leaks were the result of sabotage. However, on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, the Dutch court found it “could not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that saboteurs were to blame for the leaks” that destroyed crops in Oruma and Goi, according to Al Jazeera. The court determined that the oil leaks in Ikot Ada Udo were caused by acts of sabotage. The court further explained that the issue of whether Shell can be held liable for negligence in environmental clean-up in Ikot Ada Udo “remains open” according to ABC News.
A member of the group of plaintiffs from Goi, Eric Dooh, stated the court ruling in favor of Oruma and Goi farmers sets a “world-class precedent” that could give hope to those around the world who have similar cases against multinational oil companies according to Al Jazeera. Director of Friends of the Earth Netherlands, Donald Pols, hailed the ruling as a victory for small communities hurt by huge companies, according to ABC News.
Pols is quoted by ABC News, stating “Up until [Friday] morning, Dutch multinationals could act with impunity in developing countries…and this has changed now.”
“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.”
The court also ruled that Shell Energy Retail, Ltd. and SPDC are required to implement a leak-detection system to a pipeline that caused one of the oil spills.
In a written reaction to the court ruling, SPDC expressed disappointment, stating it continued to believe the oil spills in Oruma and Goi were caused by sabotage, according to ABC News.
Shell has faced heavy criticism from local communities and activists over oil spills since the company’s discovery of Nigeria’s vast oil reserves in the late 1950s. Additionally, criticism of the multinational company’s close ties to government security forces taints the company’s reputation.
Sources: Al Jazeera, ABC News.