UK Supreme Court rules in favour of Shell in 2011 Nigerian oil spill case
May 10, 2023154 views0 comments
By Business A.M.
The UK Supreme Court has ruled that it was too late for Nigerian claimants in the Niger Delta region to sue two Shell subsidiaries over a 2011 offshore oil spill they say had a devastating long-term impact on the coastal area where they live, according to a report by Reuters.
The case was one of a series of legal battles Shell has been fighting in London courts against residents of Nigeria’s leading oil-producing region, which has been blighted by pollution, conflict, and corruption related to the oil and gas industry.
According to the Reuters report, the action stemmed from the leakage of an estimated 40,000 barrels of crude oil on December 20, 2011, during the loading of an oil tanker at Shell’s giant Bonga oil field, 120 km off the delta coast.
“A group of 27,800 individuals and 457 communities have been trying to sue Shell, saying the resulting oil slick polluted their lands and waterways, damaging farming, fishing, drinking water, mangrove forests, and religious shrines,” the report read.
The Nigerian claimants had sought Wednesday to overturn rulings from two lower courts, arguing that the oil spill constituted a “continuing nuisance”, a legal definition to which the deadline would not apply.
On its part, Shell disputed the claimants’ allegations, saying the Bonga spill was dispersed offshore and did not impact the shoreline.
However, Britain’s highest court upheld rulings by the two lower courts that found they had brought their case after the expiry of a six-year legal deadline for taking action. The panel of five Supreme Court justices unanimously rejected their lawyers’ argument that the ongoing consequences of the pollution represented a “continuing nuisance”, a technical term for a type of civil tort. This, it explained, would have meant that the six-year deadline did not apply.
Andrew Burrows, while delivering the ruling on behalf of the panel, said the Supreme Court rejects the claimants’ submission.
“There was no continuing nuisance in this case because, outside the claimant’s land, there was no repeated activity by the defendants or an ongoing state of affairs for which the defendants were responsible that was causing continuing undue interference with the use and enjoyment of the claimants’ land,” Burrows said.
Shell welcomed the Supreme Court’s judgement, noting that while the spill was highly regrettable, it was swiftly contained and cleaned up offshore.
“It was clear from the start that these claims were unfounded and brought entirely out of time,” a Shell spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, lawyers and representatives for the claimants were yet to deliver a comment at the time of filing this report.