International oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has admitted that the 2008 Oil spills in Bodo, Nigeria were larger than initially anticipated.
In the run-up to a high-profile compensation case in England’s High Court, the Anglo-Dutch company announced on Thursday that the two spills had been far greater than the previously believed figure of 4,144 barrels. However Shell did not give a revised figure.
Leigh Day, the law firm bringing a compensation bid for 15,000 members of Nigeria's Bodo community, has claimed the spills could be as large as 600,000 barrels.
The legal action is being closely monitored by both the oil industry and environmentalists for precedents that could have an impact on other international pollution claims.
The 2008 oil spills occurred in the Rivers state of Nigeria and caused significant damage to the local environment, impacting on the livelihoods of the predominantly farmer and fishermen communities there.
Audrey Gauhran, director for Global Issues at Amnesty International, stated that, "Shell's operations in the Niger Delta have resulted in devastation, and the company has repeatedly made false claims about what's going on."
Amnesty has long held that Shell’s initial estimation was inaccurate and that the damage caused by the spills has been continually underestimated. Gauhran added, "if it wasn't for a court action in the UK, Shell would never had come clean in this situation in Bodo".
Upcoming mediation talks
A spokesman for Shell said on Thursday: "From the outset, we've accepted responsibility for the two deeply regrettable operational spills in Bodo. We want to compensate fairly and quickly those who have been genuinely affected and to clean up all areas where oil has been spilled from our facilities."
Leigh Day and Shell have been negotiating since 2012 and are due to undertake final mediation talks on December 8.
Last year those affected rejected a compensation offer made by the oil giant. If an agreement is not reached the case will go to trial in England’s High Court in May 2015.
Nigeria is Africa's biggest crude oil producer but decades of oil exploration and spills have caused widespread environmental damage and subsequently impacted on the local economies and communities.