Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s biggest oil company, isn’t liable in four out of five claims bought by Nigerian farmers for pollution, a Dutch court ruled. However the company’s local venture must pay compensation in one case.
“Shell Nigeria has been sentenced to pay damages in one of the cases,” Henk Wien, judge of the District Court of The Hague, said on Wednesday. “In the four cases as regards an oil spill in 2004 near the village of Goi and as regards an oil spill in 2005 near the village of Oruma, Shell Nigeria had taken sufficient precautions to prevent the sabotage from its underground pipelines.”
In October 2012, four Nigerian villagers took Shell’s Nigerian unit to court. The fishermen and farmers, together with environmental group Milieudefensie, accused the oil company of polluting land and waterways around their homes in the Niger Delta region.
“We will appeal this ruling” Geert Ritsema, a spokesman for Milieudefensie, told reporters. “We’re flabbergasted and the people have not seen justice”.
Shell said in a statement before the judgment that the oil spills were caused by acts of sabotage and that the court lacks jurisdiction to rule on the liability of a unit that is based in Nigeria. Shell said it repaired and cleaned up the spills.
“We’re satisfied with the outcome, but none of this helps resolve the local situation which is serious because of the sabotage,” Allard Castelein, Shell’s vice-president for environment, told reporters at the court. “It’s too early to say whether we will appeal, we will study the ruling, but I don’t think this will give us reason to appeal.”
The district court ruled that in two oil spills near the village of Ikot Ada Udo Shell Nigeria violated a duty of care and shall be held liable for negligence, according to Wien. Shell Nigeria could and should have prevented this sabotage by installing a concrete plug before 2006.
The three villages that were named in this case as being polluted are Goi, hit by a spill in 2004, Oruma, affected by a spill a year later, and Ikot Ada Udo, hit by various spills in 2007.
Shell, Chevron, Exxon Mobil Corp., Total and Eni pump more than 90% of Nigeria’s oil through ventures with state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp.