Shell Faces Landmark Lawsuit over Years of Oil Spills

Oil spill polluting groundwater and ruining cropland, from a well owned by Shell (Photo: Ed Kashi/Corbis)

Shell Faces Landmark Lawsuit over Years of Oil Spills

Nigerian farmers sue Shell in Dutch court

Paving a path for ordinary citizens to sue foreign multinational companies in their home countries, Nigerian farmers faced Royal Dutch Shell in a Dutch court today over a history of devastating oil spills in the Niger Delta. The landmark case is the first time the Dutch company has faced legal repercussions in its home country from foreign plaintiffs, opening possibilities for similar lawsuits around the world.

A verdict will be given early next year in the precedent setting case.

"If you are drinking water you are drinking crude, if you are eating fish, you are eating crude, if you are breathing, you are breathing crude," said one of the plaintiffs, Eric Dooh, outside court, referring to the prevalent pollution in the oil rich region.

The case, brought by four Nigerian farmers and fisherman and Friends of the Earth International, is an attempt to hold Shell accountable for leaking and corroded oil pipelines in the Niger Delta that lead to three oil spills between 2004 and 2007. "Due to the poor maintenance of its pipelines and infrastructure," Shell's negligence has lead to tens of millions of barrels of oil to leak into the once pristine Niger Delta, and has lead to "disastrous consequences for local people and the environment," Friends of the Earth writes today.

Lawyers for both parties pleaded their arguments at The Hague today. The court announced that a verdict should be expected on January 30, 2013.

"A positive verdict will have groundbreaking legal repercussions. It will allow victims of multinational corporations in developing countries to obtain justice in Europe," says Geert Ritsema, globalization campaign leader at Friends of the Earth Netherlands / Milieudefensie.

"My community is a ghost land as a result of the devastation. We had good vegetation. Today people have respiratory problems and are getting sick," Dooh continued, who lives in the Goi community of the Niger Delta that sits between two pipelines.

"Shell is aware of the whole devastation. I want them to pay compensation, to clean up the pollution so we can grow our crops and fish again."

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