Shell files int'l arbitration against Nigeria over oil spill case

A Shell logo is seen at a gas station in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

LAGOS (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell has initiated international arbitration against Nigeria over a dispute regarding an oil spill that took place five decades ago, according to a filing with the World Bank’s dispute settlement body.

The issue relates to a an oil spill in the Ejama-Ebubu community that took place during the 1967-70 Biafran war. Nigeria’s Supreme Court in November denied Shell’s request to appeal the award. Shell has said it never got a chance to defend itself against the substance of the claims.

“This is not a decision we take lightly but, given the history of this particular case, we are seeking protection of our legal rights from an international tribunal,” Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) said in an email.

Shell made the filing with the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) on Feb. 10. It declined to say what the company was seeking via arbitration, and the ICSID posting included no details.

Nigeria’s attorney general did not respond to a request for comment.

Shell, the most significant international oil company operating in Nigeria, has faced a string of court losses in the past several months over oil spills.

In November, in the case at hand, Nigeria’s Supreme Court rejected its bid to set aside a 2010 award of 17 billion naira ($45 million), with accruing interest, that the community says is now worth more than 180 billion naira.

Last week a group of fishermen and farmers won the right to sue the company in the United Kingdom over Nigerian oil spills.

Last month, a Dutch appeals court held it responsible for multiple oil pipeline leaks in the Niger Delta and ordered it to pay unspecified damages to farmers.

Reporting by Libby George in Lagos; additional reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja; editing by Jason Neely