June 2024

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Two communities in oil-rich Niger Delta are suing the multinational oil giant Shell over spills. They are demanding compensation for the environmental damage caused by the oil spills.

No clean water for over two decades

Multiple oil spills have severely impacted the lives of the Bille and Ogale communities. Both depend on fishing and farming. They are claiming that since 1989, they do not have clean water for drinking, farming, or fishing. A 2011 report written by the United Nations Environment Programme discovered water contaminated with oil by-products such as benzene, which is believed to be a carcinogen, a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue.

 “Oil spills have a devastating impact on the fields, forests and fisheries that the people of the Niger Delta depend on for their food and livelihood. Anyone who visits these spill sites can see and smell for themselves how the pollution has spread across the land,” said Mark Dummett, Business and Human Rights researcher at Amnesty International.  “The quality of life of people living surrounded by oil fumes, oil encrusted soil and rivers awash with crude oil is appalling, and has been for decades.”

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False claims and broken promises

Shell claimed that they had cleaned up the heavily polluted areas of the Niger Delta. However, a report published by Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development found those claims to be “blatantly false.” Dummett said that:

“by inadequately cleaning up the pollution from its pipelines and wells, Shell is leaving thousands of women, men and children exposed to contaminated land, water and air, in some cases for years or even decades.”  

Shell disagreed with the report’s findings and claimed that the company had nothing to do with ongoing pollution in the area.  In a statement, they blamed oil theft for the issues.

“Both Bille and Ogale are areas heavily impacted by crude oil theft, pipeline sabotage and illegal refining which remain the main sources of pollution across the Niger Delta,” they said. “Ogale is in Ogoniland and it is important to note that SPDC has produced no oil or gas in Ogoniland since 1993. Access to the area has been limited following a rise in violence, threats to staff and attacks on facilities.”  

Dummett did not accept that as a reasonable defense: 

“…even if that were true it would not excuse the company’s consistent failure to clean up oil pollution. Shell’s blame game can no longer deflect attention from its broken promises and neglected infrastructure.”

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Going to court

The communities are being represented by law firm Leigh Day & Co. Shell had offered villagers a $50,000 settlement. But last year, the same law firm got Shell to pay the Niger Delta Bodo community $83.5 million over two oil spills. Shell is planning to dispute the British court’s jurisdiction and argued that:

“Asking the English court to intervene … is a direct challenge to the internal political acts and decisions of the Nigerian state.”  

The company would rather have the case heard in the Nigerian court system, which has been accused of corruption by rights groups. A case in Nigeria could take years. The lawyers consequently chose to challenge Shell at their headquarters in London.  

“As long as oil companies fail to live up to their commitments, the Niger Delta will remain a cautionary tale of communities promised prosperity, but left with blighted, devastated lands,” Dummett said.

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