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3 Feb 2023

Sandra Laville, The Guardian

Nigeria: Oil giant Shell faces court challenge in London over pollution of water and destruction of livelihoods

‘Nearly 14,000 Nigerians take Shell to court over devastating impact of pollution’ 2 February 2023

Nearly 14,000 people from two Nigerian communities are seeking justice in the high court in London against the fossil fuel giant Shell, claiming it is responsible for devastating pollution of their water sources and destruction of their way of life. The individuals from the Niger delta area of Ogale, a farming community, lodged their claims last week, joining more than 2,000 people from the Bille area, a largely fishing community. In total 13,652 claims from individuals, and from churches and schools, are asking the oil giant to clean up the pollution which they say has devastated their communities. They are also asking for compensation for the resulting loss of their livelihoods. Their ability to farm and fish has been destroyed by the continuing oil spills from Shell operations, they claim.

Shell, which declared profits of more than $30bn for the first three quarters of 2022, argues that the communities have no legal standing to force it to clean up. Shell argues also that the individuals are barred from seeking compensation for spills which happened five years before they lodged their claims. The company says it bears no responsibility for the clandestine siphoning off of oil from its pipelines by organised gangs, which it says causes many of the spills. The case against Shell is taking place as the oil major prepares to leave the Niger delta after more than 80 years of operations which have reaped substantial profits. Daniel Leader, a partner at Leigh Day, who is representing the claimants, said: “This case raises important questions about the responsibilities of oil and gas companies. It appears that Shell is seeking to leave the Niger delta free of any legal obligation to address the environmental devastation caused by oil spills from its infrastructure over many decades.

…A Shell spokesperson said: “We strongly believe in the merits of our case. The overwhelming majority of spills related to the Bille and Ogale claims were caused by illegal third-party interference, including pipeline sabotage, illegal bunkering and other forms of oil theft. Illegal refining of stolen crude oil also happens on a large scale in these areas and is a major source of oil pollution.” Shell told the Guardian that it had done cleanup work and remediation of affected areas and was working with the relevant Nigerian authorities to prevent sabotage, crude oil theft, and illegal refining which were, it said, the main source of pollution. It argued that litigation would do little to help address this issue.