Shell Faces Legal Battle Over Niger Delta Oil Spill

Supreme Court rules that Shell should be granted a hearing over an alleged oil spill in the Niger Delta

by Motoni Olodun

Oil giant Shell is facing a legal battle over an alleged oil spill in the Niger Delta that damaged waterways and farms. The company has appealed a court order to pay $878 million to a local community, but Nigeria’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Shell should be granted a hearing.

The case, one of several against Shell locally and abroad, started with a High Court ruling in November 2020 that ordered Shell to pay 800 billion naira ($878 million) to communities of Egbalor Ebubu in Rivers state, who accused the firm of an oil spill that occurred during the 1967-70 Biafran War.

Shell denies causing the spill and says it was the result of sabotage by third parties. The company had appealed to stop the High Court from executing its judgment, but the Court of Appeal ordered Shell to deposit the money in an account controlled by the court before its appeal could proceed.

Shell was also ordered to pause the disposal of local assets last June until the Supreme Court ruling, to allow for any compensation due to the Niger Delta Community.

The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the appeal court did not look into the merits of the case and directed that Shell be granted a hearing. The court said Shell had not proven “beyond reasonable doubt” that saboteurs were responsible for the leaks affecting the villages of Goi and Oruma, rather than poor maintenance.

“This makes Shell Nigeria responsible for the damage caused by the leaks” in these areas, it said. It added that the amount of compensation would be “determined at a later stage”.

The case is being closely watched by environmental activists and human rights groups, who have accused Shell of neglecting the Niger Delta and failing to clean up decades of oil spills that have devastated the region.

Shell, like other oil majors operating in the country, is focusing on deepwater drilling and divesting from onshore operations, which are prone to crude theft and vandalism of pipelines, hitting Nigeria’s oil production.

The company has also faced legal challenges in other countries over its activities in Nigeria. In January 2021, a Dutch appeals court ruled that Shell’s Nigerian branch was responsible for damage caused by leaks in the Niger Delta from 2004 to 2007 and ordered it to pay compensation to Nigerian farmers.

Shell said it was “disappointed” with the verdict and that it would consider further legal options. The company also said it was committed to cleaning up all spills, regardless of their cause, and to restoring the environment.

Despite the ongoing litigation, some Niger Delta communities have expressed hope that Shell will abide by the court rulings and pay for the damages caused by the oil spills. They also hope that the cases will set a precedent for other oil companies to be held accountable for their environmental and social impacts in the region.

Source: Reuters

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