Following a significant oil spill more than ten years ago, Britain’s top court decided on Wednesday that it was too late for residents of the Niger Delta to file environmental claims against energy giant Shell.
Following a ruling by the British Supreme Court in February 2021 allowing more than 50,000 residents of the Niger Delta to file environmental lawsuits in English courts, Shell is involved in a separate continuing legal dispute in the United Kingdom.
The verdict overturned a 2017 decision against the towns of Ogale and Bille, who filed lawsuits seeking clean-up and compensation after years of frequent spills in the crude-rich area.
During the proceedings, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court stated in a statement that its five judges “unanimously” dismissed an appeal on the 2011 spill, upholding earlier decisions that claims were not filed before a time required by law.
The plaintiffs assert that a leak at the Bonga oilfield, which released 40,000 barrels of crude into the Gulf of Guinea, had a “devastating impact” on their shoreline.
According to Shell, the incident was quickly contained.
The 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.
The Supreme Court however disagreed and declared the leak was a “one-off event or an isolated escape”, in a judgement that does not affect a separate legal action against Shell over other spillages.
“The claimants’ argument that there is a continuing nuisance, because on the assumed facts oil is still present on their land and has not been removed or cleaned up, is rejected,” said judge Andrew Burrows.
“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.”
The Supreme Court noted however that the 2011 spill was “one of the largest spills in Nigerian oil exploration history”.
The London-listed energy major welcomed the judgement on Wednesday, but said the spill was “regrettable”.
“It was clear from the start that these claims were unfounded and brought entirely out of time,” a Shell spokesperson said.
“Today’s decision… rejected the claimants’ case that Bonga oil could have become trapped and re-mobilised years later, migrating upstream and impacting the claimants’ communities.
“While the 2011 Bonga spill was highly regrettable, it was swiftly contained and cleaned up offshore.”