Oil company Shell will resume talks next week in London with lawyers representing 15,000 of the poorest people in the world who are claiming millions of pounds’ compensation for oil spills on the Niger delta. But Martyn Day, of Leigh Day law firm which is acting for the communities, said the case could still go to a full high court trial in London in 2014.
The Shell petroleum development company of Nigeria (SPDC) has admitted liability for two spills from a pipeline in the Niger delta in 2008, but the company disputes the quantity of oil that was spilled and the damage that was done to livelihoods and the environment near the coastal village of Bodo in Rivers State. Oil spill experts working for the communities estimate that nearly 500,000 barrels leaked from the company pipeline over several months, Shell claims it was far less.
The legal action, represents the first time Shell or any oil company has faced claims in the UK from a community from the developing world for environmental damage. “We have agreed to negotiate over the next two to three weeks. Probably the talks will go on into the autumn when a deal will become more likely,” said Day.
The legal development came as Netherlands National Contact Point (NCP), which oversees the implementation of OECD guidelines on the human rights and environmental records of multinational companies, broadly backed claims by Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth International that Shell’s repeated assertions that sabotage is responsible for most of the oil spilt in Nigeria is based on flawed investigations which rely on information provided by the company itself. The two organisations offered NCP video evidence of “serious flaws” in the system used by Shell for investigating oil spills.
NCP accepted there were problems in the spill investigation system but criticised Shell. “Shell management should have had a more cautious attitude about the percentage of oil spills caused by the sabotage. The data they are based on is not absolute,” it said.
But FoeI and Amnesty said today that NCP should have gone much further in its criticism of Shell. “Sabotage is a problem in Nigeria, but Shell exaggerates this issue to avoid criticism for its failure to prevent oil spills,” said Audrey Gaughran of Amnesty International. “The oil companies are liable to pay compensation when spills are found to be their fault but not if the cause is attributed to sabotage – but it is effectively the company that investigates itself. This is clearly a system open to abuse.”
Shell replied that oil companies did not devise the investigation system and that they had acted within the Nigerian law. “Any spill is a serious concern, and SPDC staff and contractors are working hard to eliminate operational spills. Unfortunately the high incidence of oil theft and illegal refining in the Niger delta exacerbates the problem and has a devastating impact on the environment. This criminality is the real tragedy of the Niger delta. SPDC regrets that some NGOs continue to take a campaigning approach rather than focusing on on-the-ground solutions that bring societal benefits,” said the Shell spokesman Jonathan French.
Shell’s 2012 sustainability report states that 95% of the 26,500 barrels of oil spilled from Shell facilities in Nigeria which were as a result of sabotage. Of the 173 oil spills over 1.5 barrels from SPDC facilities, the company said 80% were caused by illegal activity.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010