Shell officials on Monday began talks in Port Harcourt with representatives of the Bodo community on compensation and cleanup, five years after one of the worst oil spills in the country’s history, the Associated Press reported.

Some experts say two oil spills that started in 2008 led to the largest loss of a mangrove habitat ever caused by an oil spill, affecting about 30,000 people in the Niger Delta area since then, according to a London-based law firm, Leigh Day.

“These people, since 2008, are living on a creek of oil. You step out of the front door, you see oil, breathe in oil and toxic fumes,” said a lawyer, Daniel Leader of Leigh Day, representing about 15,000 people from the community that filed a lawsuit in 2012.

Although Royal Dutch Shell has admitted responsibility for the two spills, the impact has been disputed and will be the main focus of negotiations in Port Harcourt.

Royal Dutch Shell said a joint investigation team estimated that 4,100 barrels were lost in the two spills. That estimate is based on the initial investigations by representatives from the company and the local community, spokesman, Jonathan French, told the Associated Press.

“Having said all that, it doesn’t matter how much was spilled because the compensation will be based on the financial loss that people have suffered because of the spill in the lagoon, and that is a matter of dispute between us and the claimant,” he said.

Leigh Day said that 15,000 fishermen and 31,000 inhabitants of 35 villages were affected in and around the Bodo lagoon and its associated waterways.

The law firm said independent experts estimated between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels were spilled, devastating the environment that sits amid 90 square kilometres (35 square miles) of mangroves, swamps and channels.

“The majority of its inhabitants are subsistence fishermen and farmers. Until the two 2008 spills, Bodo was a relatively prosperous town based on fishing,” the firm said in a statement.

The spills had destroyed the fishing industry and environment there, it said.

“Those communities are still having water shipped into them. But it’s patchy, and we fear many of those communities are drinking from poisoned wells,” Leader said.

But Shell said such estimates were high.

French said the company did not have access to the area to clean it up and that not all oil spilled was a result of the company’s operations.

Shell blames most of the spills in the region on militant attacks or thieves tapping into pipelines to steal crude oil, which ends up on the black market.

Nigeria, one of the top crude oil suppliers to the United States, requires companies to promptly clean up oil spills but the policy is not enforced, according to the report.

Both parties have said they hope to reach an agreement by the end of the week.

Neither side would discuss possible settlement figures. Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that the company was thought to be offering about $20m in compensation, while the villagers were seeking $200m.


Information from Punch was used in this report.