Shell subsidiary ruled to be liable for Nigerian oil spills

Company ordered to compensate Niger Delta residents and to purify contaminated waters

Nigerian chief Eric Barizah of the Goi community in Rivers State shows oil pollution from leaks in the Niger Delta, Nigeria, in 2013. Photograph: EPA/STR

Nigerian chief Eric Barizah of the Goi community in Rivers State shows oil pollution from leaks in the Niger Delta, Nigeria, in 2013. Photograph: EPA/STR

 

A Dutch court on Friday ruled that a subsidiary of the giant British-Dutch multinational Royal Dutch Shell was liable for oil spills in the Niger Delta in Nigeria in 2006 and 2007, ordering the company to compensate a small group of residents in the region and to start purifying contaminated waters within weeks.

The subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Co, acted unlawfully by allowing the leaks to occur and by failing to clean up the area that had been contaminated, the Court of Appeal in The Hague found. The delta, in southern Nigeria, is the heart of the country’s prolific oil industry.

The decision was the latest development in a years-long judicial saga that pitted four Nigerian farmers against the company, and it could pave the way for more cases against the oil firm in the region. The court ruled that the Shell subsidiary in Nigeria should issue compensation, but it did not hold Royal Dutch Shell itself responsible.

The decision can be appealed to the Dutch Supreme Court. Oil spills damage the environment in the Niger Delta every year, impacting the livelihoods of people living there, who argue that faulty maintenance and poor security measures by oil firms are responsible.

The farmers, along with the Dutch branch of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, sued Shell in 2008, arguing that the oil spills in 2006 and 2007 had ruined the workers’ livelihoods by polluting the agricultural land and ponds they rely on. – New York Times