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High Court

Nigeria Bodo community resists attempts by Shell to strike out their claim for oil spill clean-up

On Tuesday 23 May 2023, the High Court will hear an application by the Bodo Community in Nigeria to proceed to trial with their claim for clean-up of oil spills from Shell pipelines in 2008.

Posted on 19 May 2023

The spills caused the largest loss of mangrove habitat in history of oil pollution and 15 years after those spills clean-up is still not complete.

The hearing is on the same day as Shell Global’s AGM is due to be held in London and comes days after a People’s Health Tribunal found Shell guilty of serious environmental violations in Nigeria.

It is taking place because Shell is seeking to strike out the Community’s legal claim for clean-up and avoid independent scrutiny of its clean-up operation on almost 9,000 hectares of land belonging to the Bodo Community in the Niger Delta.

The Bodo Community suffered two spills of almost half a million barrels of oil in 2008 from the pipelines of Shell’s Nigerian company, SPDC.

The Bodo Community instructed law firm Leigh Day and in 2015 settled claims for compensation for loss of livelihoods caused by the spills.

The Community agreed to pause their legal case to allow clean-up of the spills while they sought to engage with Shell via a mediator sponsored by the Dutch Government to conduct the clean-up.

However, over the last eight years the Community has repeatedly been forced to return to court to get Shell to clean up its oil. This has resulted in an unprecedented clean-up operation and the largest ever replanting of mangroves impacted by oil and the largest active oil spill clean-up in the world.

Now Shell claims to have nearly completed the clean-up. However, the Community is deeply concerned that significant levels of contamination remain trapped in their environment and simply seek independent confirmation by international experts that clean-up has been conducted to international standards.

The Community tried to agree with Shell for an extension of the stay of their claims so that they could seek independent expert advice on the clean-up but Shell refused to cooperate.

Shell’s refusal to allow the community to check whether clean-up has taken place to international standards has led to serious concern about the potential ongoing impact to their health and environment.

The Bodo Community now have no choice but to return to court. The Bodo Community is seeking to reinstate the claims for trial, since if Shell has not completed the clean-up adequately, then the Claimants should be provided with the funds to pay for a clean-up themselves.

Shell opposes the Claimants’ application and is seeking to have the Community’s claim struck out.

Shell claims that because it has almost completed clean-up there is no need for any litigation, and that in any event only the Nigerian regulators are entitled to scrutinise the clean-up operation. Shell also argues, for the first time in the litigation, that it does not owe any duty to the Claimants to clean up its oil. Instead, Shell says, its duties are only owed to the Nigerian regulators.

Leigh Day partner Matthew Renshaw said:

“Shell has been blocking the community from getting independent verification of the quality of the clean-up. If they had nothing to hide they would welcome the scrutiny but instead Shell have reacted with fury and are seeking to extinguish the Community’s legal rights completely. The Community now have evidence suggesting that the clean-up is not being done properly and intend to take Shell to court to ensure the Bodo Creek is fully remediated. A clean creek in Bodo is vital to our clients and will allow them to start fishing again.”

Matthew Renshaw
Corporate accountability

Matthew Renshaw

Matthew Renshaw is a partner in the international department.

Daniel Leader
Corporate accountability Diesel emissions claims Environment Group claims Human rights International litigation

Daniel Leader

International human rights, business human rights and corporate accountability lawyer

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