In a victory for environmentalists and Nigerians whose land was polluted by oil leaks, a Dutch appeals court ordered energy giant Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary Friday to compensate two farmers for damage to their land caused by leaks in 2004 and 2005.
‘Tears of joy here. After 13 years, we’ve won,’ the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth tweeted.
The amount of compensation will be established at a later date.
In another case, The Hague Court of Appeal ruled that sabotage was to blame for an oil leak in another village and that Shell was not liable.
The court also ruled that Dutch-based mother company Royal Dutch Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary must fit a leak-detection system to a pipeline that caused one of the spills.
The decision, which can be appealed to the Dutch Supreme Court, is the latest stage in a case that is breaking new legal ground in how far multinationals in the Netherlands can be held responsible for actions of their overseas subsidiaries.
The company did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Royal Dutch Shell had argued that saboteurs were responsible for leaks in underground oil pipes that have polluted the delta. But the appeals court ruled that while sabotage was the most likely scenario in two of the villages, it could not be established beyond reasonable law, meaning the Nigerian subsidiary was liable.
In 2013, The Hague District Court ordered Shell Nigeria to compensate one of the four farmers involved in the case for making it too easy for saboteurs to open a well head that leaked onto his land. However, the court cleared Shell of blame in pollution of the other three farmers’ land and ruled that Shell’s Dutch parent company could not be held liable.
Both sides appealed, and judges ruled in 2015 that Shell could be held to account in Dutch courts for its actions in Nigeria. The judges also ordered Shell to give the plaintiffs access to documents that could shed more light on the cause of the leaks and how much Shell management knew about them.
Shell discovered and started exploiting Nigeria’s vast oil reserves in the late 1950s and has faced heavy criticism from activists and local communities over spills and for the company’s close ties to government security forces.
Friends of the Earth, which is supporting the Nigerian farmers in their legal battle, argues that leaking pipes are caused by poor maintenance and inadequate security and that Shell does not do enough to clean up spills.