A UK court ruled that a group of Nigerian fishermen can bring claims against Shell Plc over oil pollution that devastated their communities, as a long-running legal case edges closer to a trial.
The 13,000 fishermen from the Ogale and Bille communities in the Niger Delta region claim that Shell breached their right to a clean environment under Nigerian constitutional law, according to an emailed statement Thursday from their law firm Leigh Day. The court ruling published Wednesday deals with procedural issues before a trial in a case that’s been going on for eight years.
“I am not going to strike out the claims,” the judge said, adding that such a move would be “draconian,” given the “catastrophically environmentally damaging oil pollution in the Niger Delta.”
Shell said the court also ruled that the claimants have failed to identify the particular spill or spills that caused them damage. The Ogale and Bille litigation does little to address the real causes of pollution in the Niger Delta, the company added in a statement.
“Oil is being stolen on an industrial scale in the Niger Delta,” Shell said. “This criminality is a major source of pollution and is the cause of the majority of spills in the Bille and Ogale claims.”
Shell won a similar case earlier this year after judges in the UK’s Supreme Court dismissed arguments that an offshore oil spill had impacted communities and that the oil major could still be held responsible over a decade later for an oil spill in Nigeria. The leak at the offshore Bonga field in 2011 — one of Nigeria’s largest — was an environmental “catastrophe” that caused billions of dollars of damage, a group of almost 28,000 Nigerians had argued.
Shell has a fraught history in the West African nation, where frequent spills and challenging relationships with local communities have led it to reassess the future of its onshore and shallow water operations. These leaks, many of which Shell blames on sabotage and theft rather than mechanical failure, have destroyed the livelihoods of fishing and farming populations in the south of the country and have led to ongoing legal battles in Nigeria, the UK and the Netherlands.
Photograph: Abandoned fishing boats sit on the ground as crude oil pollution covers the shoreline of an estuary in B-Dere, Ogoni, Nigeria, on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. Photo credit: Bloomberg
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