Bodo villagers affected by a major oil spill reject a US $50 million settlement offer, and are accusing Royal Dutch Shell of downplaying their responsibility to protect infrastructure from damages caused by oil theft.
The London High Court determined that Shell Nigeria could be held liable for damages caused by vandalism and oil theft if infrastructure was insufficiently protected from tampering. In 2008, a 55 year-old rusty pipeline passing through Niger Delta villages burst twice near Bodo, a rural coastal community of nearly 30,000 fishers and farmers. Thousands of gallons of oil spilled throughout Bodo, polluting the area and ruining the livelihood of many community members.
Shell Nigeria is insisting that the affected community members should welcome their settlement offer, claiming that they have “accepted responsibility for the two deeply regrettable operational spills in Bodo.”
Leigh Day, the UK law firm representing the Nigerian fishing village, calls the settlement offer “laughable.” Martyn Day, a senior partner at Leigh Day, explains that Shell’s settlement offer would only amount to $1,700 for each of the 30,000 individuals they are representing. Day is also arguing that the offer only takes into account operational incidents, and neglects the oil company’s responsibility to protect their pipelines from vandalism and oil theft which can incur serious damages to surrounding areas.
“This is a highly significant judgment,” said Day regarding the London High Court’s ruling. “For years, Shell has argued that they are only legally liable for oil spills which are caused by operational failure of their pipelines and that they have no liability for the devastation caused by bunkered oil…This judgment entirely undermines that defence and states in clear terms that Shell does have potential liability if it fails to take reasonable steps to protect its pipelines.”
The Niger Delta is among the most polluted regions in the world, with more than 7,000 oil spills between 1970 and 2000 that have yet to be cleaned up. In the past, Shell has only offered compensation for spills related to equipment failure. In a 2013 report produced by Amnesty International, they identified several flaws in Shell’s claims on oil pollution in the Niger Delta, even alluding that Shell’s contractors may have been involved with oil thefts to some degree. This is the first time that Shell is on trial by a British court for their environmental record.