Oil giant ExxonMobil ordered to pay for spill

The US-based oil giant ExxonMobil has been ordered to pay three Niger Delta communities 1.4 billion naira (US $10.1 million) as compensation for the effects of a 1998 oil spill, Nigerian and company officials said on Monday.

In a judgment delivered on Friday, Justice Abdullahi Mustapha of the Federal High Court in Lagos held the oil company liable for damage done by floating crude oil to fisheries and the ecology of the coastal communities of Bonny, Brass and Andoni, a court official said.

The crude oil, the judge ruled, was part of the over 40,000 barrels spilled when a pipeline connecting ExxonMobil’s offshore Idoho platform to its Qua Iboe oil export terminal, succumbed to wear and tear in January 1998. The company had argued in court it was not oil from its facility that had caused the damage complained against by the communities.

ExxonMobil's Nigerian subsidiary said in a statement on Monday it was disappointed with the judgment of the court and will appeal against it. The company said it had closely monitored the 1998 spill with Nigeria's environmental and oil authorities and the three communities were not affected.

"In-depth scientific studies were conducted in the aftermath of the spill and those studies confirm that there was no discernable adverse effect on the people and the environment as a consequence of the spill," said the statement signed by company spokesman Udom Inoyo.

Relations between oil transnationals producing over two million barrels of crude daily in Nigeria and the inhabitants of the oil-rich Niger Delta, where most of the oil is produced, are at best difficult.

Impoverished communities in the region accuse the joint ventures of government and oil transnationals of cheating them out of the wealth produced in their land and causing massive environmental damage.

Violent disruption of oil operations, including kidnapping of oil workers for ransom, violent protests and fighting among the communities for benefits from oil companies are common.