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Shell sued over oil spill in Niger Delta

Royal Dutch Shell has been hit with a class-action lawsuit in London by the Bodo community of Nigeria, which suffered a “devastating” oil spill when a key pipeline burst in the summer of 2008.

The new lawsuit against Shell has been sparked by a leak allegedly coming from the Trans-Niger pipeline, which the community says started flowing into the Bodo creek in August 2008.  Photo: AP

Rowena Mason
By Rowena Mason 7:45AM BST 02 May 2011

The community filed a lawsuit last month at the High Court against both Royal Dutch Shell and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, raising the possibility of a drawn-out legal battle for compensation.

More than 69,000 people live in Bodo in the Niger Delta, which has seen 9m to 13m barrels of oil spilt from the pipelines of various companies over the years – more than double the volume of BP’s Gulf of Mexico leak. UN figures show more than 6,800 spills between 1976 and 2001.

Much of those spills has not been cleared up because oil companies face regular attacks on their staff and pipelines by militants who have targeted the industry since 2006. The militants claim Nigerian people do not see enough profit from their natural resources.

The new lawsuit against Shell has been sparked by a leak allegedly coming from the Trans-Niger pipeline, which the community says started flowing into the Bodo creek in August 2008 and continued for four months. Shell claimed it was only made aware of the problem on October 5 that year but the pipeline was not fixed until a month later. There were later reports of a second leak on the pipeline in February 2009.

More than two years later, the Bodo people are still claiming that the livelihoods of fishermen and farmers have been destroyed by the spill.

A report by Amnesty International calls the oil leak “devastating” and says that Shell came to assess the site in spring 2009, when oil was still affecting the land.

“As of May 2009, the site of the spill had still not been cleaned up and there was controversy over the clean-up contract,” the Amnesty report said. “On 2 May 2009, eight months after the spill, Shell staff reportedly brought food relief to the community, which they rejected as inadequate.”

According to Nenibarini Zabbey of the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development: “Shell Petroleum Development Company officials arrived at the palace of the paramount ruler of Bodo on Saturday 2 May, 2009, and presented as relief materials 50 bags of rice, 50 bags of beans, 50 bags of garri, 50 cartons of sugar, 50 cartons of dry peak milk, 50 cartons of milo tea, 50 cartons of tomatoes and 50 tins of groundnut oil. Given the population, the Bodo people consider the offer by Shell as insulting, provocative and beggarly.”

It is understood Shell has received letters of claim relating to the two alleged oil spills but has not yet been formally served with a writ.

Shell declined to comment on the lawsuit or the Bodo spill but a spokesman said that, in general, “the great majority of spills in the Niger Delta are the result of third party interference, mainly sabotage, theft of equipment or leaks caused by thieves drilling into pipelines or opening up wellheads to steal oil. On average, such third party interference has accounted for more than 75pc of all oil spill incidents and more than 70pc of all oil spilled from Shell facilities in the Delta over the last five years.”

Last year, Shell says it spilt approximately 3,500 tonnes of oil into the Niger Delta. This was down significantly from the 14,000 tonnes of oil spilt in 2009, when military violence in the region was at a peak.


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