The local fishing community in Nigeria’s delta region have been hardest hit by recent oil spills.PHOTO | BBC
Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell came under renewed scrutiny on Wednesday over its environmental record in Nigeria after lawyers brought fresh claims of damage caused by spills to a London court.
British legal firm Leigh Day has filed two cases at the High Court in a bid to force the Anglo-Dutch energy major to clean up damage caused in the communities of Ogale and Bille in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s main oil-producing region, and provide compensation.
In Bille, the lawyers hope to prove that Shell is liable for failing to protect its pipelines from damage caused by third parties, which, they said, could mark a “significant expansion” in the firm’s liability.
A 2011 report by the United Nations Environment Programme found that decades of oil pollution in Ogoniland region, where Ogale is located, may require the world’s biggest ever clean-up.
Leigh Day says that Shell, historically Nigeria’s largest producer, has failed to act on the report despite its promises — a claim that was also levelled last year by Amnesty International.
The lawyers argued in a press statement that the 40,000-strong Ogale community continues to live with “chronic levels” of land and water pollution, which has had a devastating impact on its farming and fishing.
In hearings expected to take place later this year, Shell will argue that the two cases should be heard in Nigeria, not in Britain, according to a spokesman for the company’s Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC.
He added that both Bille and Ogale are areas “heavily impacted” by oil theft, sabotage and illegal refining, activities which Shell has long argued are the main causes of pollution in the Niger Delta.
In Ogoniland, he said the company was acting on the UN report through an 18-month clean-up and remediation programme agreed last year with the Nigerian government and community members.
Chima Williams, of Environmental Rights Action (ERA)/Friends of the Environment, a Nigerian environmental rights lobby group, said the response to the UN report did not address the issue of compensation.
“This is why the London suit is very important at this point. It will bridge the gap in terms of helping the people of Ogoniland to get off the ground and have their lives back,” he said.
Shell agreed in January 2015 to pay more than $80 million to the Nigerian fishing community of Bodo for two serious oil spills in 2008, following a three-year legal battle brought by Leigh Day in London.
A Dutch court also ruled in December that four Nigerian farmers demanding compensation and a clean-up in four heavily-polluted Niger Delta villages can bring a case against the energy giant in the Netherlands.