The oil-rich Niger Delta has generated billions of dollars for Shell over the past 60 years, but the company’s operations have been plagued by sabotage, theft and oil spills that ravaged the local environment. Though Nigeria was one of its most prolific regions for crude production in 2015, Shell has sold off tracts of onshore oil fields. Its new focus—sealed with the mammoth $50 billion acquisition of BG Group PLC this year—is deep-water wells off the coasts of the U.S. and Brazil and a historic shift toward natural gas that puts it at the forefront of oil companies offering a more climate-friendly image to investors.
The hearings in London’s High Court on November 2016 represented an early test for cases brought by the community of Ogale and a group from the Bille Kingdom. The communities are hoping to hold Shell accountable for environmental damage they claim has been caused by spills from infrastructure operated by Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria Ltd., or SPDC. Shell is expected to argue that only the subsidiary should be held liable and that the cases should be heard in Nigeria, SPDC’s base and where the incidents took place…
But the communities and their lawyers say seeking justice in Nigeria won’t hold Shell responsible for the actions of its subsidiary and is extraordinarily difficult...“You cannot fight Shell in Nigeria,” the king of Ogale, Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, said in a phone interview. “Shell is Nigeria, Nigeria is Shell.”
It is a point Shell has already contested in The Hague, where four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth successfully appealed a ruling that was largely in Shell’s favor in 2015, allowing them to pursue a case against the company in the Netherlands.
In 2015, the company said it experienced on average nine oil spills a month caused by sabotage or theft, with a handful of additional spills caused by operational issues. An uptick in violence this year has knocked important export terminals out of action for months at a time, though divestments onshore have helped reduce the overall number of spills Shell has recorded…
The company has already paid out £55 million, or roughly $80 million, to compensate another Niger Delta-based community in a settlement reached last year after they brought a separate lawsuit in London. In that instance, Shell admitted the spills were caused by operational failures.
Excerpts from Shell Fights Lawsuits Over Environmental Record in Nigeria, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 19, 2016