CHICAGO A Nigerian tribal king filed a lawsuit in a US court seeking $1 billion from Royal Dutch Shell to compensate for decades of pollution that sickened his people and damaged their lands, his lawyer said Thursday.
The suit was filed a day after the US Supreme Court said it will consider a lawsuit accusing Shell of human rights abuses in Nigeria in a landmark case that could make companies liable for torture or genocide committed overseas.
That case will assess the potential liability of corporations — including multinationals with a US presence — under the Alien Tort Statute, a US law dating back to 1789 that scholars say was meant to assure foreign governments that the United States would help prevent breaches of international law.
The latest case alleges that Shell’s Nigerian operations are “well below internationally recognized standards to prevent and control pipeline oil spills” because the Anglo-Dutch company “has not employed the best available technology and practices that they use elsewhere in the world.”
It cited a recent United Nations report that found that contamination was widespread in the Nigerian Delta after 50 years of oil extraction left groundwater contaminated and hydrocarbons penetrated the soil to depths of five meters.
The suit was brought on behalf of the people of Ogale in the Eleme local government area, where the UN team found the most serious groundwater contamination and people drinking water laced with cancer-causing benzene at 900 times World Health Organization guidelines.
Scientists found an eight centimeter layer of refined oil floating on the groundwater that served the wells. The oil was linked to a spill that had occurred six years earlier and was not properly cleaned up.
A spokesperson from Shell did not immediately return a request for comment.
The 32-page civil complaint was filed Tuesday at the federal court in Detroit, Michigan.
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