Dutch court orders petroleum giant to pay Nigerian farmers for oil spills
Kaieteur News – The Hague Court of Appeal yesterday ordered the Nigerian energy giant’s subsidiary; Shell, to provide compensation for oil spills in the Niger Delta that damaged the lands of farmers in Oruma and Goi villages back in 2004 and 2005.
That ruling is one that could pave the way for new lawsuits against multinational oil companies operating with an aura of “intangibles” as Shell Petroleum Development Company in Nigeria Limited and its parent company The Dutch, Royal Dutch Shell, were held liable for the leaks.
Industry stakeholders who pursued the issue for years have said that such a ruling is one that Guyana should pay close attention to, as it has yet to receive full coverage insurance for ExxonMobil’s Phase One and Payara projects.
The Hague Court of Appeal ruling was deemed a victory for environmentalists and especially 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, cited the award as a necessary victory “for small communities hurt by huge companies.”
It was the Dutch chapter of the Pols organization, which had taken the civil case to court back in 2008.
“Up until this morning (yesterday), Dutch multinationals could operate unencumbered in developing countries and this has changed now,” said Pols, adding “From this moment on, international companies will of the Dutch are held to account for their activities and actions in development. countries. And that is a huge win for law rights globally. ”
One of the farmers involved, Eric Dooh, called the decision a victory “for the entire Niger Delta region. The victory is for the Ogoni people. A victory for all who stood by our side, the All Blacks and the Whites. ”
During the proceedings, Friends of the Earth lawyers had told the Dutch court that poor maintenance and inadequate security caused leakage pipes and that Shell is not doing enough to clean up spills.
The Hague Court of Appeal held the multinational oil company liable for the oil spike spills over a two-mile radius in both villages as the company could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that the leaks had been caused by damage done by oil thieves rather than by himself. negligence.
According to Nigerian law, applied in the Dutch civil case, the company would not be held responsible if the leaks were due to saboteurs.
The Dutch court also ruled that while sabotage was behind another oil spill in a nearby village, whether or not Shell was held liable “remains open” as the court seeks clarity on the extent of the compensation pursued and whether it can be cleaned.
That case will continue later.
In addition, to compensate the farmers, the Hague Court of Appeal also ordered that Royal Dutch Shell must fit a leak detection system to a pipeline that caused one of the leaks. 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 claim that the oil spills were due to sabotage.
The company said, “Sabotage, crude oil theft, and illegal refining are a major challenge in the Niger Delta. In fact, in 2019, about 95% of loss incidents from our operations were there due to such criminal acts. Regardless of the cause, we clean and recover, as we have done with the leaks in this case. “
The Nigerian subsidiary further added “Like all enterprises operated by Shell 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 challenging for saboteurs to open a spring well that spilled onto its land.
At the same time, the court cleared the oil company of blame for contaminating the land of the other three farmers, ruling that Shell’s parent company from the Netherlands could not be held liable. But, after both sides appealed the ruling, judges ruled in 2015 that Shell could be held accountable for its actions in Nigeria.
The judges also ordered 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 security forces ever since it began exploiting Nigeria’s vast oil reserves in the late 1950s.