The Ogoni community of Bodo has filed a class-action lawsuit at the High Court in London against oil giant Royal Dutch Shell. The case concerns damages caused by two major oil spills from Shell’s Trans-Niger pipeline in 2008-9, both the result of equipment failure. It took Shell several months before they finally clamped the pipeline. During that time crude oil was pumped through the burst pipe, ravaging the rural village and resulting in widespread environmental devastation.
Shell refused to clean up the spill site, leaving the massive oil slick to spread kilometers upstream in Bodo Creek, damaging fragile mangroves forests which may take decades to recover. Ecologically speaking, Bodo Creek is sick and dying. Tens of thousands of villagers depend on the Creek for their drinking water and fishing. Locals complain of a sharp decline in fishing, ruined crop and petroleum poisoning.
What Shell did was offer the community wholly inadequate compensation, as reported in The Telegraph:
According to Nenibarini Zabbey of the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development: “Shell Petroleum Development Company officials arrived at the palace of the paramount ruler of Bodo on Saturday 2 May, 2009, and presented as relief materials 50 bags of rice, 50 bags of beans, 50 bags of garri, 50 cartons of sugar, 50 cartons of dry peak milk, 50 cartons of milo tea, 50 cartons of tomatoes and 50 tins of groundnut oil. Given the population, the Bodo people consider the offer by Shell as insulting, provocative and beggarly.”
The story will be painfully familiar to locals in Ogoniland and across the Niger Delta, where oil spills from Shell’s sprawling network of pipelines are a daily occurrence. An independent study in 2006 estimated that 9 million barrels of oil had been spilled in the Delta since 1956, but the true figure could be much higher. As long as Shell applies lower standards in Nigeria than they apply in Europe and the US, the company will continue to face legal challenges and could face huge penalties.