Nigerian boat guides carry passengers through polluted water in Ogoniland, near the Port Harcourt oil hub. Shell has blamed sabotage and oil theft for the pollution.
‘Tens of thousands of fishermen and farmers have been given permission to sue the energy giant Shell in a British court for oil spills in two further areas of the Niger delta’
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Niger delta oil spills: the real cost of crude
The action brought by London lawyers Leigh Day on behalf of the Ogale and Bille communities alleges that decades of uncleaned oil spills have polluted fishing waters and contaminated farming land.
Last year Leigh Day won $83.5m in damages from Shell at the high court in London for the Bodo community, who live elsewhere in the Niger delta.
In a statement before the hearing on Wednesday, Shell blamed sabotage and oil theft for the pollution. The company said it had halted production more than two decades ago in Ogoniland, the area where the two communities are located.
Photo: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters
Villagers stand near a container containing crude oil collected by villagers as a sample at the shore of the Atlantic ocean near Orobiri village, days after Royal Dutch Shell’s Bonga off-shore oil spill, in Nigeria’s delta state December, 2011
Shell said it would challenge the jurisdiction of the British court: “Asking the English court to intervene … is a direct challenge to the internal political acts and decisions of the Nigerian state.”
Human rights activists argue that such pollution levels would never be tolerated in the home countries of such multinationals.
Ogoni protests in the 1990s were attacked by troops who turned the oil-producing south into a war zone. The writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders were executed by a military government in 1995.
At a hearing in the technology and construction court, Judge Raeside QC said legal proceedings against Royal Dutch Shell and the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria.
‘The Deepwater Horizon disaster caused headlines around the world, yet the people who live in the Niger delta have had to live with environmental catastrophes for decades ‘ – John Vidal, Observer
Photo: George Esiri/Reuters
A ruptured pipeline burns in a Lagos suburb after an explosion in 2008 which killed at least 100 people.
Ogale is located in the Rivers State in Nigeria and has an estimated population of more than 40,000. It was said to have been has been subjected to repeated oil spillages since at least 1989. Residents of Bille have traditionally relied on fishing but oil spills are alleged to have destroyed their livelihood.
Daniel Leader, a solicitor partner at Leigh Day, said: “It is scandalous that four year after the United Nations Environment Programme report, Shell is yet to clean up its oil in either Ogale or Bille. Our clients’ patience has now run out and we intend to force Shell to act since it is clear they have no intention of doing so on their own.
Given the extent of the damage, we believe that the cleanup costs for both communities will run into several hundred million pounds. The claims from the thousands of individuals affected by this pollution, could run into tens of millions of pounds given the impact on these communities.”