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Can Shell be sued in UK for oil spills in the Niger Delta?UK Supreme court to decide

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Bille , Ogale Communities wrestle Shell in UK supreme court

United Kingdom’s Supreme Court will on Today hear if two Niger Delta communities of Bille and Ogale can sue Royal Dutch Shell for compensation over pollution from oil spills.The two communities have earlier been refused permission by the High Court in London to seek redress in a British court for oil spills in their communities in Nigeria’s Niger Delta which natives say have polluted their for many years from pipelines operated by Shell in Nigeria.

At the Supreme court today, their lawyers intend to argue that a decision in a case involving a London-based mining company and villagers in Zambia has set a legal precedent which should apply to the Niger Delta communities also.They will try to convince the five UK Supreme Court justices that the Nigerians should be allowed to have their case heard in London, based on the judgement last year.

In the Zambia case , the Supreme court had in April,2019 ,ruled that the British-based mining company Vedanta Resources could be liable for pollution caused by its KCM subsidiary in Zambia and a claim for compensation could be presented in London.

Meanwhile,Royal Dutch Shell insists the British courts lacks jurisdiction in the matter.The UK Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether Bille and Ogale communities in Nigeria’s Niger Delta can have their case heard in London or not.

Leigh Day is representing the two Nigerian communities in claims against Shell’s parent company, Royal Dutch Shell plc and its Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC).

Both communities allege that they have suffered systematic and ongoing oil pollution for years because of Shell’s operations. Indeed the oil pollution to Ogale’s water wells was carefully documented by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2011 and signs have been erected around the town prohibiting the use of water wells.

Shell does not dispute that both communities have been severely polluted by its oil, or that there is yet be an adequate clean up. The communities are seeking justice through the English Courts against the parent company because they maintain that there is sadly no prospect of justice in Nigeria.

Cases of this kind in Nigeria tend to take 20 years or more, a situation the English Court of Appeal recently described as “beyond catastrophic” (IPCO (Nigeria) Limited v Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation [2015] EWCA).

The Ogale Community
The Ogale community is a rural community of about 40,000 people situated in Ogoniland in the Niger Delta.

The people of Ogale have traditionally been either crop farmers and fishermen who rely on Ogale’s tributaries and waterways as fishing areas. Shell has a long legacy of oil pollution in Ogale.

According to Shell’s own records, the community has been impacted by at least 40 oil spills from Shell’s pipelines and equipment since 1989, including 23 spills in the past 4 years. Shell’s pipelines and infrastructure in Ogale are several decades old and in a poor state of repair making the area vulnerable to oil spills which have caused, and continue to cause, long-term contamination of the land, swamps, groundwater and waterways in the Community.

In 2011 the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) published an Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland which included extensive testing of the Ogale Community.

UNEP’s testing of Ogale reported serious contamination of agricultural land and waterways in the community as well as its groundwater, exposing Ogale’s inhabitants to serious health risks. Groundwater oil contamination in Ogale was found to be 1,000 times higher than levels permitted under Nigerian law and water in the community was found to be unfit for human consumption.

Community members report that the oil contamination has impacted on their farming productivity, and fishing has all but ended in the community.

Residents are not being provided with clean drinking water – the water scheme that had been introduced in the community has not functioned for the last year and community members who are not able to pay for alternative water often have to drink contaminated water.

The Bille Community
Bille is located in the Degema Local Government Area (LGA) in River State, Nigeria. Populated by nearly 13,000 residents, it is comprised of a number of island towns and fishing settlements that are surrounded entirely by water.

Residents of Bille have traditionally relied on fishing to sustain their way of life, however, following the devastation caused by the spills emanating from an oil pipeline known as the Nembe Creek 30” Trunkline (NCTL) their livelihood has been destroyed.

According to the legal action, the creeks, mangroves and island communities in Bille have been devastated by oil emanating from the NCTL since the replacement of the Bille Section of the pipeline in 2010.

It is alleged that 13,200 hectares of mangrove have been damaged by oil spilled from the Bille Pipelines and Infrastructure, the largest loss of mangrove habitat in the history of oil spills.

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