Nigerians pursue legal case against Shell

5 November 2008 – Four Nigerians and Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands) today initiated a unique legal case. For the first time in history, the international headquarters of Shell in the Netherlands will be brought before a Dutch court to account for environmental damage caused abroad.

The Nigerian plaintiffs – farmers and fishers – have suffered great losses due to oil leaks caused by Shell’s oil production. On Friday, 7 November, Liesbeth Zegveld, lawyer for the Nigerians and Milieudefensie, will subpoena Shell, accused of negligence. New research has shown that the villages of the Nigerian plaintiffs are severely polluted, and that Shell does not follow international standards for responsible oil production in Nigeria. Two of the Nigerian plaintiffs are currently in the Netherlands.

  • Unique legal case in the Netherlands
  • Lawyer: Shell headquarters negligent in Nigeria
  • Nigerians are victims of Shell’s oil leaks
  • New research: Nigerian villages severely polluted

    In May of this year, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, Liesbeth Zegveld of law office Böhler in Amsterdam, requested that Shell headquarters clarify its role in the Nigerian oil leaks. Shell’s reply was disappointing; its headquarters shifted all legal responsibility to Nigeria. Zegveld: ‘This will be the crux of the legal case. Shell headquarters believes it is immune, but we believe it definitely is liable. Clearly, it could take action. Considering the ongoing situation of decades of oil leaks in the Niger Delta, it should have done so long ago. We hold Shell responsible for negligence.’

    Milieudefensie has had soil testing carried out by two Nigerian professors in the villages of Ikot Ada Udo, Oruma and Goi, homes of the Nigerian plaintiffs. The research showed that – respectively 10, 24 and 33 months after the leaks – the soil and water still contain too much toxic oil to farm or fish there. Research by US professor and oil-leak expert Rick Steiner of Alaska showed that Shell’s performance in Nigeria does not meet international standards for responsible oil production.

    Anne van Schaik, campaign coordinator for Milieudefensie: ‘What Shell headquarters permits in Nigeria would be unthinkable in the Netherlands. Shell would never treat people and the environment that way here. We hope the Dutch court will rule that Shell must clean up the pollution, properly compensate the victims and that multinationals all over the world must accept their responsibility.’

    Oil production by Shell in Nigeria causes an average of five oil leaks per week, in an area smaller than the Netherlands. Each leak releases an average of 16 thousand litres of oil into the environment. According to Shell, one third of the leaks are due to human error and poor maintenance of the oil installations. In two thirds of the cases, states Shell, sabotage is involved. Shell is also required by law to clean up this pollution.