Shell broke the law by not repairing leaks that destroyed the lands of Niger Delta farmers, a Dutch court heard in a case that could set a precedent for global environmental responsibility. The four Nigerian farmers, backed by lobby group Friends of the Earth, have brought the Anglo-Dutch oil giant into court thousands of miles away from their homes with a civil suit that could open the door for hundreds of similar cases.
“Shell knew for a long time that the pipeline was damaged but didn’t do anything. They could have stopped the leaks,” lawyer Channa Samkalden told the court yesterday, accusing Shell of having “violated its legal obligations”.
The case relates to damage caused in 2005 and was initially filed in 2008, demanding that Royal Dutch Shell should clean up the mess, repair and maintain defective pipelines to prevent further damage and pay out compensation. In a landmark ruling, the Dutch judiciary in 2009 declared itself competent to try the case despite protests from Shell that its Nigerian subsidiary was solely legally responsible for any damage.
“I’m here because of the oil leakage that happened in my community in the Shell facilities and destroyed my 47 fish ponds”, Friday Alfred Akpan, from the village of Ikot Ada Udo, told the AFP news agency before heading into court.
“The destruction of the fish ponds caused serious damage to me and my family because I make use of that fish to take care of myself and my children.”
“We believe that the claims are unsubstantiated,” Allard Castelein, Shell’s Vice President Environment, said at the court. “The spills that happened in the years between 2004 and 2007 all happened as the consequence of illegal theft and sabotage.” “We agreed there was a spill, it wasn’t our fault, we cleaned up nevertheless and that’s what happened,” Castelein said.
Environmental groups accuse Shell of double standards and treating spills in Nigeria differently from pollution in Europe or North America. But Castelein fended off the accusations, saying: “We do have the same standards in Europe and Nigeria.” He added: “I am not afraid of (the court’s) judgment as it will just confirm the way we operate.”