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Shell on trial for pipeline leak in Nigeria

Dutch Nigerians hold a banner supporting compensation claims by Nigerian farmers against oil-company Shell


3 December 2009

THE HAGUE — Oil giant Anglo-Dutch Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary went on trial before a civil court here Thursday for a pipeline leak in 2005 alleged to have caused widespread environmental and social damage.

“The crude oil which poured for days from the pipeline damaged the environment, destroyed crops and made fishing impossible,” said Michel Uiterwaal, lawyer for the Friends of the Earth Netherlands and for two Nigerian villagers, who jointly brought the case.

Shell’s lawyer, Jan de Bie Leuveling Tjeenk, stated that the leak in July 2005 near the village of Oruma in southwest Nigeria amounted to “about 400 barrels” and had a “limited impact” on the environment.

Furthermore, the leak was not the outcome of bad pipeline maintenance by Shell, as the plaintiffs contended, but of sabotage, he added.

The oil group also challenged the competence of the court to judge a case concerning its subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria.

“There’s no reason to try this case in the Netherlands,” Shell spokesman Andre Romeyn told AFP after the hearing. “The affair concerns events that happened in Nigeria and a Nigerian company.”

Uiterwaal contested this argument, declaring that “the policy of the group, notably on environmental issues, is decided at headquarters.”

The court must first rule on its competence to try the affair and announced that it will declare on December 30 whether it proceeds with the case.

Shell faces two other cases brought by Nigerian villagers in the Netherlands. They are demanding better maintenance of the pipelines, steps to clean up polluted land and financial compensation for the economic damage they say they have sustained.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

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