Nigerian oil giant shell has been taken in a Dutch court to face charges of destroying livelihoods in Nigerian villages in the Niger Delta region on Thursday.
The farmers case, which could set a precedent for global environmental responsibility was established by four Nigerian farmers and the Dutch branch of campaigners Friends of the Earth. The charges by the farmers on the oil spills dating back to 2005 by the Anglo-Dutch company has made fishing and farming in the plaintiffs’ Niger Delta villages impossible.
The case was first filed in 2008, demanding that Royal Dutch Shell clean up the mess, repair and maintain defective pipelines to prevent further damage and pay out compensation. Despite protests from Shell that its Nigerian subsidiary was exclusively legally responsible for any damage, the Dutch bench in 2009 declared itself competent to try the case.
Shell is the biggest producer of oil in the West African country, where it has been drilling for over 50 years. Environmental groups accuse Shell of double standards and treating spills in Nigeria differently from pollution in Europe or North America. Friends of the Earth Netherlands spokesman Geert Ritsema told AFP that twice as much oil has been spilled in Nigeria than was in the Gulf of Mexico causing a massive scale of pollution in Nigeria but it’s has never been cleaned up. The 2010 explosion and sinking of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig led to around five million barrels of oil
leaking into the Gulf of Mexico in the biggest ever marine spill.
Shell in an attempt to defend itself says that spills in Nigeria are well below five million barrels and that the company cleans up whenever there is a leak, many of which it says they claim to caused by sabotage. Last year, it was estimated through the United Nations Environment Programme report that over half a century of oil operation in the region, by firms including Shell, had caused deeper damage to the Ogoniland area of the Niger Delta.
According to reports, thousands of other compensation claims from those affected by oil spills could be table by farmers if this case is successful. Environmentalists want the Netherlands, and other Western nations, to pass laws forcing companies to enforce the same environmental responsibility standards abroad as at home.