Shell lied to Dutch court about oil pollution in Nigeria

Amsterdam, 17 November 2014 – Shell did not tell the truth to the court in The Hague in the legal action brought by Milieudefensie [Friends of the Earth Netherlands] and four Nigerian farmers.

The action was taken against Shell due to major oil spills in three Nigerian villages. Documents revealed in a British court show that Shell lied about the situation in the village of Goi.

In the Dutch case, Shell sustained in court that spills from its pipeline in Goi (2) could not be blamed on the company’s negligence. Shell’s lawyer pointed to the precautionary measures that Shell had taken, such as the installation of a Leak Detection System. But the documents that Shell had to divulge to a British court reveal that Shell had to admit that no Leak Detection System was in place. In part because of its reference to this system, in 2013 Shell was not held responsible for the spills in Goi .

The new documents were released this year in a British lawsuit brought against Shell concerning oil spills in the Nigerian village of Bodo, not far from Goi. That case, brought by the Leigh Day law firm acting on behalf of the Bodo community, concerns spills from the same Shell pipeline. In Bodo as well as in Goi, farmers and fishers have for years been left with no livelihood due to the pollution of their land and fishing ponds.

Channa Samkalden, lawyer for Milieudefensie and the Nigerian farmers, requested the documents from the British court: ‘On the basis of these documents, I can conclude that the testimony on the Leak Detection System which Shell gave to the court in The Hague in our case is in fact not true. These documents also reveal that Shell has withheld other important information.’

Proper maintenance

A Leak Detection System is just one of the measures which Shell stated was in place. In order to actually prevent spills, other preventative measures are demanded, such as proper maintenance. Shell has always said there were no grounds for reproach concerning that, but the British documents indicate otherwise. In 2002, Shell was warned by a committee of Shell Nigeria and Shell Global Solutions about the pipeline running through Goi and Bodo: it had exceeded its life span and should have been replaced due to ‘major risk and hazard’. Shell neglected to do so and furthermore, carried out no maintenance. Other than what Shell claimed before the Dutch court, the company for all intents and purposes maintained no proper surveillance of the pipeline. Shell did however continue to pump oil through the corroded pipeline as usual. In the years following, various spills occurred in Goi, through which thousands of litres of oil were leaked into the environment.

Geert Ritsema, head of the Energy and Natural Resources Campaign at Milieudefensie stated, ‘Shell has repeatedly surpassed our worst nightmares. We already knew that the company has flaunted the Nigerian legal system, either ignoring its verdicts or endlessly delaying carrying them out. But we are surprised to see that Shell also seems to have so little respect for the Dutch legal system.’

Appeal in 2015

Meanwhile, Milieudefensie’s lawyer has submitted to the court in The Hague a portion of the documents that came to light via the British court. On 12 March of next year, this court will hold its first session in the appeal that Milieudefensie and the Nigerian farmers have brought against the 2013 verdict by the court in The Hague.

Last week, Amnesty International revealed Shell’s lies in the British Bodo case: Shell repeatedly and intentionally made false claims on the size and impact of two major oil spills. The amount of leaked oil and the damage was intentionally underestimated in an attempt to minimise compensation payments to area residents.

Geert Ritsema: ‘The walls are beginning to close in on Shell. The image that the company would like to present of itself, in the role of the victim instead of the perpetrator, is crumbling more and more.’