Shell wins fight at UK Supreme Court over 2011 oil spill offshore Nigeria


Shell Plc won its fight at the UK’s Supreme Court over a lawsuit into one of the largest oil spills off the coast of Nigeria after Britain’s top judges dismissed arguments that the oil company could still be held responsible over a decade later.


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The Bonga oil leak in 2011 — said to be the largest spill in the Niger Delta for at least 20 years — was an environmental “catastrophe” that caused billions of dollars of damage, a group of almost 28,000 Nigerians had argued.

Lawyers for two of the Nigerian claimants said that the spill of some 40,000 bbl of oil, which happened during a transfer of oil between two vessels, wreaked havoc across communities. The two had attempted to argue that the oil spill could be considered a “continuing nuisance” allowing for statutory time limits to legal action to be extended.

But the panel of five judges rejected those arguments Wednesday.

“The leak was a one-off event or an isolated escape,” Judge Andrew Burrows said.

Shell said the ruling brings an end to the claims in England.

“It was clear from the start that these claims were unfounded and brought entirely out of time,” the company said in a statement. “While the 2011 Bonga spill was highly regrettable, it was swiftly contained and cleaned up offshore.”

The case had the potential for broader ramifications for other lawsuits, with the judges considering whether oil companies can be held responsible for spills at sea until the oil has been cleaned up.

When considering whether a leak can be considered a continuing nuisance, “the important point is that it is continuing day after day or on another regular basis,” the judges said.


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