*Criminality is major cause of pollution, oil major insists
Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja
A United Kingdom High Court presided over by Mrs. Justice May, has given the go-ahead to more than 13,000 farmers and fishermen from Ogale and Bille communities in the Niger Delta to proceed with their claims against Shell.
But in a swift response, Shell has said that the stealing of crude oil on an industrial scale in the Niger Delta was a major source of pollution and the cause of the majority of spills in the affected communities.
The claimants had argued that the chronic pollution of their water sources and destruction of their means of livelihood constituted a breach of their right to a clean environment under the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
The ruling means that the Nigerian communities will now prepare for a trial, which will take place on December 12 and 13 this year, for more legal arguments.
However, Shell maintained that its Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), accepted responsibility for the spills it caused and compensated affected parties where required by relevant Nigerian regulations.
It said it also remediates all spills from its assets, regardless of cause.
However, the company denies that it owes a duty of care directly to the claimants.
The Guardian of UK quoted Shell to have said in response to the judgment that the claimants had failed to identify the particular spill or spills that allegedly caused the damage despite the court having ordered this to be done.
“We strongly believe in the merits of our case. Oil is being stolen on an industrial scale in the Niger Delta. This criminality is a major source of pollution and is the cause of the majority of spills in the Bille and Ogale claims.
“Irrespective of the cause, SPDC cleans up and remediates areas affected by spills from its facilities or pipeline network, working closely with regulators, local communities, and other stakeholders.
“We believe litigation does little to address the real problem in the Niger Delta: oil spills due to theft, illegal refining, and sabotage, with which SPDC is constantly faced and which cause the most environmental damage,” a Shell spokesman said.
On the allegation before the court that the company was leaving Nigeria after several decades of its operations in Nigeria, Shell said it wasn’t entirely true.
“Shell has no plans to leave Nigeria. As previously stated, Shell’s intent is to reduce its involvement in onshore oil production in Nigeria while remaining in its deepwater and integrated gas positions in the country,” the oil giant said.
A statement by Leigh Day, the international legal team representing the communities obtained by THISDAY described the ruling as a “significant moment” in the eight-year battle.
The leader of the team, Matthew Renshaw, maintained that Shell had repeatedly resorted to using technicalities to try to block and delay its clients’ claims.
Renshaw said he and the clients hoped to move without further delay towards a trial, where the claims for a full clean-up and compensation for the destruction of their means of livelihood can be fully heard.
“The move is a major development in the landmark legal claim by the Ogale and Bille communities, who have been fighting the oil giant for a clean-up and compensation after the pollution devastated the area, leaving them without clean water and unable to farm and fish.
“The judge found it could be argued the pollution has fundamentally breached the villagers’ right to a clean environment under the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter and those constitutional rights were directly enforceable and can be relied upon against companies like Shell.
“Importantly, such claims have no limitation period, meaning Shell would not be able to evade liability on the grounds the communities did not bring their claims within a narrow time frame,” Leigh Day stated.
The law firm maintained that the “company, which plans to leave the Niger Delta after 80 years of highly profitable operations”, has offered the Ogale and Bille communities no remedy or compensation and left the communities chronically polluted.