London, UK | – Anglo-Dutch multinational oil giant Shell Plc has agreed to a $84m (€70m) out of court settlement with a village in the Niger Delta as compensation for oil spills in 2008 and 2009.
Lawyers for 15,600 Nigerian fishermen in Bodo community in Ogoniland whose livelihoods were ruined by the spills say their clients will receive $3,300 each. The remaining $30m will go to the community. Thousands of hectares of mangrove swamp were polluted by the spills, ruining drink water supplies and forcing the fishermen to find other jobs.
Critics however say the settlement process took far too long.
“Whilst we are delighted for our clients, and pleased that Shell has done the decent thing, I have to say that it is deeply disappointing that Shell took six years to take this case seriously and to recognize the true extent of the damage these spills caused to the environment and to those who rely on it for their livelihood,” said Martyn Day, a lawyer at the London law firm Leigh Day & Co., which represented the plaintiffs, in a statement Wednesday.
In August 2008, a Shell pipeline burst in Bodo, spilling oil into the surrounding area. Shell initially said it lost a total of 4,000 barrels of oil, but watchdog group Amnesty International has reported that the spill sent more than 100,000 barrels into the natural environment, which was a major source of livelihood for local farmers and fishermen.
In November 2014, Shell acknowledged that it had miscalculated, publicly stating that “the total volume of oil released…exceeded contemporaneous estimates.”
‘From the outset, we’ve accepted responsibility for the two deeply regrettable operational spills in Bodo,’ Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of the company’s Nigerian subsidiary SPDC said in a statement. “We’ve always wanted to compensate the community fairly and we are pleased to have reached agreement.”
While Shell acknowledges that operational failure caused the spills, the company said earlier settlement efforts failed due to the “grossly exaggerated” claims asking for more than $400 million.
“While the pay-out is a long awaited victory for the thousands of people who lost their livelihoods in Bodo, it shouldn’t have taken six years to get anything close to fair compensation,” Amnesty International’s head of global issues said on Wednesday.
Massive crude reserves in the Niger Delta have been a primary source of revenue for Nigeria in recent decades. But the rewards haven’t come without problems. Shell and other companies have been working in the region since the 1950s, but the industry is causing environmental damage to the region’s natural land, not just due to company failures but also illegal theft and refining, according to experts. A 2011 report from the United Nations noted that full environmental recovery from spills could take up to 30 years.
“For now, the Bodo community is very happy that this case has been finally laid to rest,” Chief Sylvester Kogbara, Chairman of the Bodo Council of Chiefs and Elders said in a statement. “The hope is that this will forge a good relationship with Shell for the future, not only with the Bodo people but with all the Niger Delta communities that have been impacted in the same way as us,” he said.