(GIN)—A Dutch court has upheld a payout to residents of the Niger Delta of $15.9 million for oil spills that contaminated land and waterways in three communities.

In the case brought by Friends of the Earth, Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary was found to be responsible for the spills that occurred between 2004 and 2007. The payout will benefit the communities of Oruma, Goi and Ikot Ada Udo that were impacted by the four spills.

“The settlement is on a no admission of liability basis, and settles all claims and ends all pending litigation related to the spills,” Shell said.

The case was brought in 2008 by four farmers seeking reparations for lost income from contaminated land and waterways in the region, the heart of Nigeria’s oil industry.


After the appeals court’s final ruling last year, Shell said it continued to believe the spills were caused by sabotage.

But the court sided with the farmers, saying Shell had not proven “beyond reasonable doubt” that sabotage had caused the spill, rather than poor maintenance. Shell is the largest oil operator in the Niger Delta, Africa’s largest oil-producing region. Its residents face high poverty rates and a largely degraded environment, owing to hundreds of spills every year.

“We have groundwater polluted with benzene 900 times above World Health Organization level, we have farmlands with poor yields, rivers that are barely fishable, neonatal deaths numbering thousands yearly as a result of spills. We have reduced neuroplasticity of the brain as a result of oil pollution,” Niger Delta activist Saatah Nubari told CNN.

“The Niger Delta is a graveyard of the living,” said Nubari, “and we will never know how much harm has been done until we audit the entire environment.”

In 2012, in a similar case, members of the Bodo community in Nigeria filed a lawsuit against Shell for two oil spills and losses suffered to their health, livelihoods, and land.

They also requested clean-up of the oil pollution. In 2015, Shell accepted responsibility for the spill and agreed to pay U.S. $83 million in an out-of-court settlement and to assist in clean-up.

An earlier offer by Shell of less than $5,000 to settle the case was rejected unanimously as “derisory” by the community.

Some 15,600 Bodo residents have benefited from the larger settlement, receiving over $2,500 each.

Meanwhile, Donald Pols from Friends of the Earth Netherlands commented on the compensation award. “It’s the most beautiful experience to see all the happy faces. Everybody is enormously happy.”