Shell Pointing Fingers, Claiming Nigerian Locals are Responsible for Oil Spills

Approximately 11,000 Nigerians filed a lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell on Friday, alleging that Shell’s massive spills have destroyed their lands, rivers, and wetlands.

Nearly thirty-five villages of the coastal Bodo community have been affected by these two, massive oil spills, which actually occurred in 2008 in the Niger River delta.  The livelihood of these communities is in disrepair, as most of the residents are subsistence farmers and fishermen.  While Shell has admitted liability for the leaks associated with the spills, it claims that the Nigerian locals are to blame for the damaging spills.  A spokesman for the European oil company, Jonathan French, stated that the locals “spilled oil during theft from the pipeline and sabotaged it to exaggerate the environmental damage,” eventually hoping to be generously compensated for greater damage.

While the actual amount of the spill is still undetermined, the geographic span of oil coverage cannot be mistaken: ninety square kilometers of land and waterways were affected along with a coastline comparable to that of BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, believe that Shell should pay approximately $1 billion to these villages in order for the residents to repair their lives and finally leave the arduous, painstaking years behind.

Do you agree with or believe Shell’s argument? Could Nigeria be crying out for monetary attention? Does it make a difference to note that Nigeria was Africa’s largest oil producer in 2011 and the fifth largest source of crude imports for the U.S.?

4 comments

  1. Currently, Shell has taken responsibility for the spillage of approximately 4,000 barrels of oil, but Shell denies responsibility for the other oil spillages in the region that it is being blamed for. As per Nigerian law, Shell has agreed to clean up and restore the land where the oil was spilled, however, unless it can be proven that Shell spilled the rest of the oil that it is being blamed for, there is no reason why Shell should have to pay the $1 billion dollars that Amnesty International is requesting. While it is devastating for the people of Nigeria that their land has been ruined, it nonetheless would not be fair to place all of the blame, and costs, on one company who may not be responsible for all of the damage. It is possible that the other spills have been the results of Nigerians’ own illegal conduct, and if this is true, then the Nigerians need to pay for the remediation of their land. This situation itself may seem unfair, making a very poor country pay, while a large corporation could easily handle the burden; yet, Nigerians cannot blame large corporations for all of their problems in order to get out of paying for their mistakes. Just because a large corporation can stand to undertake the remediation of the land, does not mean that they are required to do so if they have not caused the damage.

  2. It is somewhat ironic that a corporation headquartered in the “International City of Peace and Justice,” The Hague, Netherlands, might be the poster child for corporate social irresponsibility. Royal Dutch Petroleum’s report card is peppered with worldwide environmental failures: not just Nigeria, but Ireland, the Philippines, South Africa, and Russia. Green advocacy groups like Friends of the Earth estimate Shell’s worldwide damages to be about $20 billion. In August 2011, the company actually accepted responsibility for the double rupture of the Bodo-Bonny trans-Niger pipeline, which has paved the way for additional suits like this one, by other damaged communities in the region. Similar suits against Royal Dutch Petroleum began in U.S. courts as early as 1996 with Wiwa and Kiobel; the former was settled, the latter is currently pending before the Supreme Court. A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable claims that Shell admits to having inserted staff into all the main ministries of the Nigerian government, which would give it access to politicians’ every move.

    Do I believe Shell’s argument? Not hardly.

  3. I think that is a rather arrogant assertion by Mr. French. While I would not be surprised if locals are stealing oil from the pipeline to either sell or use for personal purposes, to assert that native Nigerians intentionally released oil into their rivers and other wetlands is disingenuous at best. According to the Carter Center, the annual average income in Nigeria is a measly $640. I highly doubt that individuals living in rural areas could afford to damage the land which they need to survive/make a living in order to gain a large payout from the Shell (unless they are receiving really bad legal advice).

  4. I have to agree with Brian on this one. I also would not be surprised if local Nigerians were stealing oil from the pipeline. However, this is a poor country we’re talking about going up against a massive, money-hungry international oil company. While I don’t think it would be smart to encourage theft of oil in pipelines by poor countries, I also would not be sad to see Shell forced to pay for all of the damages. I think some sort of settlement is appropriate. There needs to be some investigation of the allegation that Nigerians stole oil and made the problem worse, and perhaps they should be held responsible for paying for the oil they allegedly spilled, while Shell pays for the damages done because of the oil spill. In this way, perhaps we would be able to discourage theft while encouraging corporate responsibility on Shell’s part.

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