Shell to be held accountable for Nigeria oil spills – says Dutch Court

December 21, 2015 | Health, Safety & Environment, Nigeria

London, UK | – A Dutch appeals court ruled on Friday that Royal Dutch Shell can be held liable for oil spills at its Nigerian subsidiary, in a landmark decision Friday.

In a five minute hearing at The Hague, judges said that the Dutch legal system has the authority to rule on any forthcoming cases launched by those seeking compensation from the multinational oil company Shell.

Judges also ordered the oil giant to hand over company documents relating to the 2008 oil spills in the Niger Delta, where the company’s subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria carries out operations.

“Shell can be taken to court in the Netherlands for the effects of the oil spills,” the court said Friday. “Shell is also ordered to provide access to documents that could shed more light on the cause of the leaks.”

The latest ruling is seen as a landmark decision for communities and environmentalists, as it could open the way for a series of lawsuits in Dutch courts against the company for contamination and oil spills abroad. It also comes in stark contrast to the 2013 decision by a lower Dutch court, which dismissed a lawsuit filed against Shell by four Nigerian farmers and the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

The court initially ruled that the IOC could not be held responsible for spills at its subsidiary based in Nigeria.

The latest decision was welcomed by those affected by the 2008 spill. Friends of the Earth Netherlands Director Geert Ritsema said farmers can now proceed with their compensation claims.

“There are 6,000 km of Shell pipelines and thousands of people living along them in the Niger Delta,” he said. “Other people in Nigeria can bring cases and that could be tens of billions of euros in damages.”

A spokesperson for the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria expressed their disappointment in the ruling and maintained that the subsidiary should be held accountable in the Nigerian courts.

“In 2013, the court found that Royal Dutch Shell has no liability in relation to these claims,” the spokesperson said. “And as the claims against SPDC relied on the Royal Dutch Shell claims to establish jurisdiction in the Netherlands, in our view the court should have declined to exercise jurisdiction over SPDC on this occasion.”                In January, Shell agreed to pay US$82 million in an out-of-court compensation to a settlement on the Niger Delta after a separate oil spill in 2008.