Lawyers for the Bodo community in Ogoniland of Rivers State, which was devastated by two major oil spills in 2008, went to court in London yesterday to fend off what they said was an attempt by Shell to kill off their litigation.
This is coming as crude oil price rose briefly to $80 per barrel yesterday after the United States toughened its stance on Iran and Venezuela, key oil producers and members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
The Bodo oil spills have been the subject of years of legal wrangling.
In 2015, Shell admitted that the two spills were caused by operational failure of the pipelines and accepted liability for the spills, committing to pay 55 million pounds, about $83 million to Bodo villagers and to clean up their lands and waterways.
In addition to the payment of compensation, THISDAY gathered that the clean-up of the 2008 operational spills at Bodo restarted in September 2017, with the re-mobilisation of the two international contractors utilising the 400 youths trained for the exercise.
Reuters reported that Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC)'s lawyers argued yesterday in London court that the litigation should be struck off in October 2018, or at the latest a year later, insisting that it should only be re-activated if SPDC failed to comply with its obligation to pay for the clean-up.
But lawyers for the Bodo community said that was unacceptable, because the clean-up could go wrong for any number of reasons and that under Shell's proposal the villagers would be left without the recourse of going back to court.
"The effect of what Shell is trying to do is to kill off the case," Reuters quoted Dan Leader, the Bodo community's lead lawyer, as saying on the sidelines of the hearing.
"It's only because of the pressure of litigation that the clean-up is getting back on track," Leader added.
But Shell's lawyers, citing an earlier judgment, compared the stayed litigation to a "gun in the cupboard" that the Bodo community's lawyers wanted to be able to hold to Shell's head at their convenience, for years on end.
Shell's lawyers further argued that the litigation was a hindrance to the clean-up because it gave some local community members the impression that there was still the possibility of a bigger payout, incentivising them to block the clean-up rather than cooperate.
"The previous persistent delays to the clean-up process clearly demonstrate that litigating Nigerian oil spill cases in the English courts does little to resolve the complex underlying security and community issues which can frustrate attempts to clean up areas impacted by oil pollution," an SPDC spokeswoman said.
"We hope that the community will continue to grant the access needed for clean-up to progress as planned," she added.
A judgment on the litigation issues is expected on Friday.
While Shell attributed 80 per cent of spills in the Niger Delta to criminal sabotage, the company admitted that the two Bodo spills were caused by operational failure of the pipelines, and accepted responsibility as soon as the independent Joint Investigation Team determined the cause.
Also as in all cases of operational spills, Shell also acknowledged responsibility to pay appropriate compensation as required by the provisions of the Nigerian Oil Pipelines Act.
In another development, crude oil price rose brieflyon Tuesday morning after the US toughened its stance on Iran and Venezuela, key oil producers and OPEC members.
While the West Texas Intermediate rose by as much as two per cent to to $72.72 per barrel, the global benchmark, Brent climbed 0.83 per cent to $80.11 per barrel before settling at $79.79 per barrel.
Brent and WTI had shot to multi-year high over the past few weeks.