ABUJA (Reuters) – A Nigerian community from the oil-rich Niger Delta has filed a lawsuit in the United States seeking $1 billion in compensation from Anglo-Dutch oil major Shell for decades of pollution caused by oil spills.
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide if companies can be held liable in the United States for international human rights law violations.
The decision was related to a case involving allegations that Shell helped Nigeria violently suppress oil exploration protests in the 1990s.
The $1 billion compensation case was filed at a court in Detroit last week, citing the U.S. Alien Tort Statue law, which dates back from 1789. It has been used in the past to charge companies in the United States for breaches of international law.
The suit was brought on behalf of the people of Ogale in the Eleme local government area, where a United Nations environmental report earlier this year found people drinking water contaminated with carcinogens at 900 times the World Health Organization’s safety limit.
“(Shell operates) well below internationally recognized standards to prevent and control pipeline oil spills … (the company) has not employed the best available technology and practices that they use elsewhere in the world,” the case against the oil major said.
Shell declined to comment. It has said in the past that the majority of oil spills in the Niger Delta are caused by oil theft and sabotage to its facilities but it clears up spills whatever the cause as quickly as possible.
The U.N. report recommended that Ogoniland, one section of the oil-rich Niger Delta wetlands region, required the world’s largest ever oil spill clean-up. It said it would cost an initial $1 billion and could take up to 30 years.
The U.N. paper was critical of both Shell and the state-owned oil firm NNPC for not cleaning up oil spills and for not operating their own best practises while working in the winding creeks and waterways of the delta.
Shell has been reducing its focus on onshore Nigeria in recent years, selling fields, following difficulties in the delta.
Photo Credit: A logo on a Shell petrol station in a file photo. REUTERS/Toby Melville