Shell Has to Pay $150 Million for 1970 Oil Spill That Turned Rain Black

Shell Has to Pay $150 Million for 1970 Oil Spill That Turned Rain Black
Creeks devastated as a result of spills from oil theives at Nembe Creek in Niger Delta on March 22, 2013. Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) has threatened to shut down production in April for nine days in the entire Nembe Creek Truck Line (NCTL) to remove a number of bunkering points on pipelines vandalised by oil thieves in the region. (Photo: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI, Getty Images)

After a 13-year legal battle, Shell agreed on Wednesday to pay $150 million (45.9 billion naira) to a Nigerian community for damages caused by its crude oil spill more than five decades ago.

Within the next three weeks, the oil giant will pay the “full and final settlement” to the Ejama-Ebubu community of Ogoniland in Rivers, a state in the Niger Delta region of the southern part of the nation. The agreement stems from a case mounted by four farmers from the community in 2008. Two of the plaintiffs have since passed away.

The lawsuit focused on a crude oil spill that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War in 1970. It took place after one of the firm’s pipelines ruptured, sending oil flowing all across the land and water, destroying farmland and marine ecosystems.

“Most of our people had to flee the community to neighbouring towns and villages. Many families were dislocated,” the former traditional ruler of the community, Chief Isaac Osaro Agbara, told the Nigerian Compass of the spill. “There was instant hunger in the land. The first time it rained after the incident, the water dropping from the roof was dark. We could not fetch and store water for domestic use.”

A Dutch court, the Court of Appeal in The Hague, first ordered Shell to compensate three of the four farmer plaintiffs for the spill back in January of this year.

“Finally, there is some justice for the Nigerian people suffering the consequences of Shell’s oil,” Eric Dooh from Goi, one of the four Nigerian plaintiffs said in a statement at the time. “It is a bittersweet victory, since two of the plaintiffs, including my father, did not live to see the end of this trial. But this verdict brings hope for the future of the people in the Niger Delta.”

The plaintiffs argue that the spill was caused by company negligence. Shell, despite agreeing to pay, maintains that the spill was caused by third parties damaging its infrastructure and says it has fully remediated the impacted sites.

Shell has been attempting to quash the lawsuit for years. In 2010, a Nigerian federal court ordered the firm to pay $US41.36 ($56) million (17 billion naira) in damages. Shell attempted to challenge the decision multiple times, most recently at the nation’s Supreme Court in November, but was shot down.

Southern Nigeria’s Ogoniland is one of the most polluted places on Earth, due to not only the 1970 disaster but also nearly 3,000 other oil spills between 1976 and 1991. The pollution has had long-term environmental effects, including depleted farmland and waterways. Activists opposing the oil industry’s polluting practices, including Shell’s, have been executed for speaking out.

The settlement in this case alone will not make up for the decades of environmental justice communities have suffered due to the fossil fuel industry. But it is at least a welcome start.