Oil pollution in one of Niger delta. Photograph: Handout
Thousands of people from two Nigerian communities in the Niger delta are seeking justice in a high court in London against one of the world's largest fossil fuel companies, for allegedly polluting their water sources and destroying their way of life. More than 13,000 claims have been filed by individuals, churches and schools, demanding that companies clean up the pollution that has devastated their communities and compensate for the resulting loss of livelihoods. The plaintiffs argued that the company's oil spill had destroyed their ability to farm and fish.
The company, which reported more than $30 billion in profits for the first three quarters of 2022, argues that communities have no legal standing to compel it to clean up and that individuals are barred from seeking compensation for spills that occurred more than five years ago. . The company also claims no responsibility for oil spills caused by organized gangs secretly siphoning oil from its pipelines.
The lawsuit against the company comes as it prepares to exit the Niger delta after more than 80 years of profitable operations. A partner at the law firm, who represents the plaintiffs, said the case raises important questions about the responsibility of oil and gas companies, suggesting that the companies are seeking to avoid legal obligations to address environmental damage caused by oil spills from their infrastructure.
Lawyers argue that the scale of the oil spill in the Niger delta hides a huge human tragedy, with local residents suffering serious health impacts and increased death tolls from pollution from ingesting the contaminated water. A study by the University of St Gallen in Switzerland found that babies in the Niger delta whose mothers lived near oil spills were twice as likely to die in their first month of life, indicating an estimated 11,000 premature deaths per year in the region.
The company has argued for five years that it is not responsible for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary, the company, and that claims from people in the Niger delta cannot be tried in London courts. However, the Supreme Court ruled last year that there is a lawful case for the Nigerian people to present their demands to the high court in London. The company continues to maintain that it is irresponsible as a parent company.
In addition to individual claims against the company, lawyers are also seeking compensation for alleged damage to communal property that would benefit the entire population living amid chronic pollution in the Niger delta. The main source of water in one of Niger's deltas for farming, drinking and fishing has been severely polluted by oil contamination, with fish being killed, drinking water contaminated and farmland damaged, according to the claim. In the rest of the Niger delta, oil spills from company operations have caused widespread river pollution, resulting in property and property damage, loss of fish and shellfish in rivers, and a significant impact on the food and sources of income of fishing populations.
The lawsuit filed in the high court alleges that the company and/or its subsidiaries were aware of ongoing oil spills from their pipelines for years but failed to take adequate measures to prevent or clean them up. The company has been active in Nigeria for 86 years, and its operations in Nigeria continue to make a significant contribution to the company's bottom line. In a 2011 report, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) exposed the devastating impact of the oil industry on Ogoniland, including the Niger delta, and recommended immediate action for "the largest terrestrial clean-up operation in history", which was estimated to cost over $1 billion. five years, about 3% of the company's 2022 profits.
A recent report by several NGOs revealed that the people of Ogoniland are still waiting for a complete oil spill cleanup in their area. According to a company spokesperson, most of the spills in the Niger delta were caused by illegal third party interference such as pipeline sabotage, bunkering and oil theft. The spokesperson further stated that the illegal refining of stolen crude oil is rampant in this area and is a major contributor to oil pollution.
In response to the accusations, the company said it had undertaken cleanup and repair efforts in the affected areas, and was cooperating with Nigerian authorities to prevent sabotage, oil theft and illegal refining, which it claims are the main sources of pollution. . The company believes that litigation will not be effective in addressing this issue.