* Largest out-of-court settlement for Nigerian spills
* Individual Bodo community members to share 35 mln stg
* Money to be paid directly into personal accounts
* Further 20 mln stg to be used for community projects
By Julia Payne and Simon Falush
ABUJA/LONDON, Jan 7 Royal Dutch Shell
will pay out 55 million pounds ($83.4 million) in compensation
for two oil spills in Nigeria in 2008 after agreeing a
settlement with the affected community.
The largest ever out-of-court settlement relating to oil
spills in Nigeria is a step forward for the oil-rich Niger Delta
region that has been hit by regular environmental damage, but it
is tiny compared with the billions in compensation and fines BP
had to pay after the Macondo rig disaster in the Gulf of
Mexico in 2010.
Though significantly higher than the 30 million pounds Shell
had previously said it would be willing to pay, its deal is a
fraction of the 300 million pounds-plus originally sought by the
Bodo community in the Niger Delta.
The payment will be split, with 35 million pounds shared
evenly between 15,600 Bodo individuals and the remaining 20
million pounds set aside in a trust fund for projects such as
health clinics and schools, said Martyn Day, senior partner at
Leigh Day, the British law firm acting for the community.
The individuals will each receive about 2,200 pounds,
equivalent to a little more than 600,000 naira ($3,249), in the
first such case to pay compensation directly to individual
community members, Day said.
Previous similar claims have tended to go through the
Nigerian authorities, resulting in a disbursement to community
chiefs, who were then expected to distribute the money.
"It's very unusual to have thousands benefit," Day said.
"The money will go directly to their bank accounts and this will
hopefully be a model for future claims."
Armed gangs tapping pipelines have often been blamed for
leaks in the region, but Shell accepted that the Bodo spills
were caused by corrosion.
"From the outset, we've accepted responsibility for the two
deeply regrettable operational spills in Bodo," said Mutiu
Sunmonu, managing director of Shell Petroleum Development Co,
the oil major's Nigerian joint venture.
"We've always wanted to compensate the community fairly and
we are pleased to have reached agreement."
It is estimated by Leigh Day that the locals, mainly
fishermen, have lost up to 300 pounds a year each on average
since the spills.
Claimants said that the two pipeline spills resulted in the
leakage of 500,000 barrels of oil, with Shell initially
estimating the volume at about 4,000 barrels. It subsequently
accepted that the total may have been higher, though it did not
provide a final figure.
Shell said that a major remediation operation would take
place in the coming months, following an initial clean-up phase,
but it did not disclose how long this would take, nor how much
it would cost.
($1 = 0.6592 pounds)
(Editing by David Goodman)