The verdict is a big win for environmentalists, who want to see Shell held responsible for one of the world’s most polluted places, the Niger Delta.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Oil giant Shell is liable for oil leakages in the Niger Delta and must compensate farmers whose livelihoods have been destroyed by pollution, a Dutch appeals court ruled on Friday.
The Hague Court of Appeals verdict found Dutch-based Shell liable for several instances of leaking, going further than a lower court ruling.
Shell hadn’t proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the leaks were caused by damage done by oil thieves rather than its own negligence. “This makes Shell Nigeria responsible for the damage caused by the leaks,” Judge Michiel Bonneur told the courtroom, mostly empty due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The case dates from 2008, when the environmental organization Milieudefensie and four Nigerian farmers claimed in a complaint against Shell that the Anglo-Dutch giant had failed to protect and maintain oil pipelines in the region, destroying the local environment. Eric Dooh, Elder Friday Alfred Akpan, Chief Fidelis A. Oguru and Alali Efanga say they were previously able to earn a living as farmers, but now the land is so damaged, their livelihoods are gone and their families and neighbors are frequently sick and sometimes die from the pollution.
“I earned my money from farming and fishing. We harvested the trees and planted cassava. That is no longer possible,” Oguru told the Dutch state broadcaster NOS ahead of the verdict on Friday.
A lower court ruled partially in favor of the farmers in 2013, the first time a Dutch court held a Dutch company liable for damage done abroad. Shell argued that the oil leaks were caused by thieves, not poor maintenance.
In Friday’s ruling, the court emphasized the high burden of proof for anyone claiming sabotage in liability cases under Nigerian law. Shell had not provided sufficient evidence to meet its claim, the court found, adding that Shell additionally should have had a better leakage-detection system so it could locate and stop oil leaks faster.
“We are crying with happiness here. After 13 years we have won,” Milieudefensie said on Twitter. Shell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Milieudefensie is facing off against Shell in another case before the court in The Hague. The group, together with more than 17,000 Dutch citizens, wants Shell to dramatically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. A ruling on that case will be made in May.
The court left the decision on compensation for a future date.
Oil production began in the Niger Delta, an area in West Africa roughly the size of Belgium, in the 1950s. Around 2 million barrels are now extracted per day from the region, which Amnesty International called “one of the most polluted places on earth.” Shell paid an $83 million dollar fine, the largest ever in Nigeria, for two spills in the region in 2008.
Friday’s decision is expected to be appealed to the Dutch Supreme Court.