A Dutch appeals court has ruled that the Nigerian subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell is responsible for oil pipeline leaks in the Niger Delta and must pay damages to farmers.
The case was brought in 2008 by four farmers and environmental group Friends of the Earth, seeking reparations for lost income from contaminated land and waterways in the Niger Delta region, the heart of Nigeria’s oil industry.
Friday’s decision went a step further than a 2013 ruling by a lower court, saying that Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary was responsible for multiple cases of oil pollution.
The appeals court said Shell had not proven “beyond reasonable doubt” that the oil spills had been caused by sabotage, rather than poor maintenance.
“This makes Shell Nigeria responsible for the damage caused by the leaks”, the court said. “The amount of compensation to be paid will have to be determined at a later stage.”
The court did not hold Shell’s parent company directly responsible, but ordered it to install a leak detection system on the Oruma pipeline, site of a significant number of the spills in the case.
Although only Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary was found responsible, the decision could pave the way for more environmental cases against the company.
A lower court in The Hague in 2013 said Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary SPDC was responsible for a case of oil pollution and ordered it to pay damages to a local farmer.