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Niger delta residents pass a burning Shell oil pipeline as they evacuate their homes by boat in December 2005. (Photo: George Osodi/AP)

Shell Oil Spill Victims Reject 'Derisory and Insulting' Compensation Offer

Five years after spills, Niger Delta residents say, 'Our food tastes of oil, our children are sick and we get skin rashes. Life here has stopped.'

Andrea Germanos

A Niger Delta community affected by oil spills has rejected a compensation offer from oil giant Shell they see as "totally derisory and insulting."

The residents of Bodo, Nigeria are represented by the London-based law firm Leigh Day to seek damages for two 2008 spills that devastated tens of thousands of residents in dozens of villages and unleashed a thick, black river of death that has choked mangroves and riverways for years.

The Guardian reports:

On Friday the full scale of the spills could be seen from the air with over 75 sq km of mangrove forests, creeks, swamps and channels thick with crude oil. Estimates of how much oil was spilled ranged from around 4,000 barrels to more than 300,000. Communities this week reported that no cleanup had been done and that water wells were still polluted.

Five years after the spills the creeks and waterways around Bodo have an apocalyptic feel. The air stinks of crude, long slicks of oil drift in and out of the blackened, dying mangrove swamps and a sheen of oil covers the tidal mudflats.

"It's everywhere. The wind blows the oil on our vegetable crops, our food tastes of oil, our children are sick and we get skin rashes. Life here has stopped," said Barilido, a fisherman reduced to collecting wood.

The Associated Press reports the law firm as saying that as many as 600,000 barrells of oil were spilled.  While Shell acknowledges responsibility for the spills, the company disputes the amount that was spilled.

“The settlement figures are totally derisory and insulting to these villagers,” said Martin Day, senior partner at the firm. “Our clients know how much their claims are worth and will not be bought off cheaply."

"The amount offered for most claimants equated to two to three years' net lost earnings whereas the Bodo creek has already been out of action for five years and it may well be another 20-25 before it is up and running properly again," said Day.  "I was not at all surprised to see the community walk out of the talks once they heard what Shell were offering."

A Shell spokesman said the spills were "highly regrettable" and said it was "a great shame that the negotiations have not led to a settlement."

The 2008 spills are part of a decades-long history of environmental degradation to the region by the company. The Center for Constitutional Rights and EarthRights International wrote that "An estimated 1.5 million tons of oil has spilled in the Niger Delta ecosystem over the past 50 years. This amount is equivalent to about one 'Exxon Valdez' spill in the Niger Delta each year."

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