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Shell Faces UK Trial Over Oil Spills in Nigeria

The High Court in London has ruled that thousands of Nigerians can sue Shell for breaching their right to a clean environment due to oil spills, law firm Leigh Day, representing the plaintiffs, said on Thursday.

“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 said in a statement.

In February this year, more than 13,000 residents from the Ogale and Bille communities in Nigeria filed claims against Shell over the oil spills, seeking compensation for loss of livelihoods and damage against the oil giant.

In the ruling of the High Court in London this week, “The judge found it could be argued the pollution has fundamentally breached the villagers’ right to a clean environment under the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter and those constitutional rights were directly enforceable and can be relied upon against companies like Shell,” the law firm said today.

“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,” Leigh Day added.  

Shell has denied responsibility for oil spills in Nigeria.

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

In recent years, the UK-based supermajor has won several cases concerning oil spills in Nigeria that have occurred since the 1990s.

In late 2019, Shell won a court ruling that blocked the enforcement of more than half a billion dollars for damages against the oil supermajor in a decade-old oil spill case in Nigeria.

In May this year, Shell won a similar case after the UK Supreme Court ruled it was too late for Nigerian claimants to sue two Shell subsidiaries over a 2011 offshore oil spill.  

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By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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