Nigeria Loses Legal Battle Against Shell
Nigeria loses legal battle against Shell after the highest court in the United Kingdom decided Wednesday that it was too late for citizens in Nigeria’s Niger Delta area to file environmental claims against energy company Shell following a massive oil leak more than a decade ago.
In a statement, the Supreme Court said that its five judges ‘unanimously’ dismissed an appeal over the 2011 leak, confirming previous findings that claims were not filed before a legal deadline.
Nigerian claims allege that a breach at the Bonga oilfield sent 40,000 barrels of petroleum into the Gulf of Guinea, causing a ‘devastating damage’ on their beachfront.
Shell said the spill was swiftly contained.
The claimants had sought yesterday to overturn rulings from two lower courts, arguing that, the oil spill constituted a “continuing nuisance”, a legal definition to which the deadline would not apply.
The Supreme Court however disagreed and declared the leak was a “one-off event or an isolated escape”, in a judgement which does not affect a separate legal action against Shell over other spillages.
“The claimants’ argument that there is a continuing nuisance, because on the assumed facts oil is still present on their land and has not been removed or cleaned up, is rejected,” said judge Andrew Burrows.
“There was no continuing nuisance in this case because outside the claimant’s land, there was no repeated activity by the defendants or an ongoing state of affairs for which the defendants were responsible that was causing continuing undue interference with the use and enjoyment of the claimants’ land,” the court noted.
The Supreme Court noted however that the 2011 spill was “one of the largest spills in Nigerian oil exploration history”.
The London-listed energy major welcomed the judgement on Wednesday, but said the spill was “regrettable”.
“It was clear from the start that these claims were unfounded and brought entirely out of time,” a Shell spokesperson said.
“Today’s decision… rejected the claimants’ case that Bonga oil could have become trapped and re-mobilised years later, migrating upstream and impacting the claimants’ communities. While the 2011 Bonga spill was highly regrettable, it was swiftly contained and cleaned up offshore, the spokesperson added.
Lawyers for the claimants said they had no comment when contacted by AFP.
Nigeria, Africa’s biggest crude producer, has struggled with oil spills for decades.
Shell faces a separate ongoing legal case in Britain, after the Supreme Court ruled in February 2021 that more than 50,000 people in the Niger delta region can make pollution claims in English courts.
The ruling overturned a 2017 decision against the Ogale and Bille communities, who brought legal claims for clean-up and compensation following decades of repeated spills in the crude-rich region.