A High Court hearing is considering whether the UK courts can hear legal claims from two Nigerian communities against Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC).
The Nigerian communities claim that oil pollution from repeated large oil spills has caused extensive damage to their environment.
The first claim is being brought on behalf of 2,335 individuals from the Bille Kingdom of Nigeria, mostly fishermen, who claim their environment has been devastated by oil spills over the past five years.
The second claim is brought on behalf of the Ogale Community in Ogoniland, around 40,000 people. The community claims it has been subjected to repeated oil spills from Shell’s pipelines over a number of years, and which have not been cleaned up.
Lawyers representing the Nigerian communities argue that Royal Dutch Shell, which is headquartered in the UK, controls and directs its Nigerian subsidiary, and should ensure that its operations do not pollute the environment. The two separate legal actions are being brought by law firm Leigh Day.
Daniel Leader, a partner at Leigh Day said: “It is clear to the claimants that Royal Dutch Shell is ultimately responsible for failing to ensure that its Nigerian subsidiary operates without causing environmental devastation. It is time for Shell to clean up their act in Nigeria. At the moment these communities have no choice, they have to take them to court to get them to act.”
However, Royal Dutch Shell and SPDC have both filed applications to challenge the jurisdiction of the English court over the claims.
A spokesperson for the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) said: “Both Bille and Ogale are areas heavily impacted by crude oil theft, pipeline sabotage and illegal refining, which remain the main sources of pollution across the Niger Delta.
“Ogale is in Ogoniland and it is important to note that SPDC has produced no oil or gas in Ogoniland since 1993. Access to the area has been limited following a rise in violence, threats to staff and attacks on facilities.”
The spokesperson added: “The Bille and Ogale communities have chosen to bring these claims in the UK instead of in Nigeria, whose laws govern SPDC Joint Venture operations. We are contesting the jurisdiction of the English court over these claims. We believe that allegations concerning Nigerian plaintiffs in dispute with a Nigerian company, over issues which took place in Nigeria, should be heard in Nigeria.”
SPDC operates SPDC JV, a joint venture between the government-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, SPDC, Total E&P Nigeria and the ENI subsidiary Agip Oil Company.