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24 Nov, 2023 15:00

Shell faces trial over Nigeria oil spills

More than 13,000 people in the West African nation can bring claims against the company, a UK court has ruled
Shell faces trial over Nigeria oil spills

British energy multinational Shell can be sued by thousands of Nigerians for oil spills, the High Court in London has ruled.

Earlier this year, more than 13,000 farmers and fishers from the Ogale and Bille communities in Nigeria filed claims against the oil major, seeking compensation for infringing their right to a clean environment under the Nigerian constitution.

"If the case succeeds at trial, it will be the first time in legal history that a UK multinational will have been found to have breached a communities’ right to a clean environment,” the law firm Leigh Day, representing the plaintiffs, said on Thursday. 

“Importantly, such claims have no limitation period, meaning Shell would not be able to evade liability on the grounds the communities did not bring their claims within a narrow time frame,” the firm added.

The court ruling was made public on Wednesday, in a case that has been ongoing for eight years.

Explaining the ruling, the court judge said: “I am not going to strike out the claims” due to “the catastrophically environmentally damaging oil pollution in the Niger Delta.”

Shell has denied culpability for oil spills in Nigeria.

In a statement carried by Bloomberg, Shell stated: “oil is being stolen on an industrial scale in the Niger Delta… This criminality is a major source of pollution and is the cause of the majority of spills in the Bille and Ogale claims.” 

In February, Shell was accused of causing devastating spills by Nigerian residents of the Ogale and Bille communities. 11,317 people and 17 institutions (including churches and schools) from Ogale and 2,335 individual from Bille are seeking compensation for the loss of income and environmental damage caused by the oil giant. 

The British corporation has won numerous oil spill cases in Nigeria since the 1990s. In May, Shell won a similar case after the UK Supreme Court ruled that Nigerian plaintiffs had run out of time to sue two of the British oil company’s subsidiaries for an offshore spill in 2011.