LONDON - Two Nigerian communities were given the go-ahead Wednesday to pursue compensation claims against oil giant Shell through the British courts. They claim leaks from pipelines have devastated the local environment in the Niger Delta.
The Ogale people living in the Niger Delta claim oil spills since 1989 from Shell pipelines have ruined their coastal fisheries and water supply.
The nearby Bille community is also suing Shell for allegedly failing to protect the pipelines from damage caused by people trying to steal the oil – so-called "bunkering."
Martyn Day – lawyer for the Ogale and Bille claimants – says it is Shell’s responsibility to prevent the thefts.
“In any other part of the world, there would be a heck of a lot more done by an oil company to try to prevent it happening. And when it does happen to make sure firstly, you know as soon as it’s happened, so some good early warning systems. And secondly that you immediately close down the pipeline to make sure that any leakage is very, very minimal," said Day.
Shell declined an interview – but issued a statement saying that the areas are heavily impacted by crude oil theft, pipeline sabotage and illegal refining which remain the main sources of pollution.
Shell also highlighted that it has produced no oil or gas in Ogoniland – which includes the Ogale area - since 1993. That is irrelevant, says Day.
“Shell’s pipelines pass though both Ogale and Bille. And it has been leaks from those pipes that have caused the damage. So the fact that Shell is no longer actually extracting oil from the ground under those areas is really neither here nor there. In the end it is their oil that has caused the damage," he said.
Last year, British courts ruled Shell had to pay $77 million in compensation to the Bodo community in the delta, whose land had also been hit by oil spills.
Shell says it has already agreed to an 18-month cleanup plan with local communities and the United Nations – and is expected to argue that the cases should be heard in Nigeria. A date for the next hearing in London is yet to be decided.