Shell Oil is being taken to court by four Nigerian farmers and the environmental agency Friends of the Earth. The company was sued in the Netherlands on Thursday over cleanups and compensation for pollution in the Niger Delta.
The civil case has been filed against the Nigerian subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS.A), the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), and the Royal Dutch Shell headquarters in the Netherlands.
Based on “years of oil pollution in three villages in the Niger Delta,” it could have “major legal consequences internationally,” the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth, known locally as Milieudefensie, said in a statement ahead of the first hearing.
The villages in question are Goi (affected by a 2004 spill), Oruma (affected by a 2005 spill), and Ikot Ada Udo (several spills through 2007). And Shell’s argument, predictably enough, is that it has completed all cleanups to the satisfaction of the Nigerian authorities, and therefore there is no case.
Interestingly, this marks the first time a Dutch firm has been taken to court in the Netherlands over international environmental damages. Shell has tried to deflect the issue, stating that the real concern for the Niger Delta region is the widespread corruption endemic to the area.
The court is expected to offer a verdict late this year or early 2013.
The Niger Delta is extremely diverse and rich in waterways full of fish, in addition to extensive mangroves. However, after systematic and extensive oil drilling, it is also one of the most polluted places on the planet.
More than 6,800 oil spills have affected the region—almost 9 to 13 million barrels of oil. Yet most residents rely on fishing for their daily sustenance.
A U.N. Environmental Program assessment in 2011, commissioned by the Nigerian government and funded by Shell, discovered that damage from oil operations for nearly half a century in the Ogoniland region—part of the Niger Delta—is much more intense than earlier estimates indicated. Restoring the region may cost as much as $1 billion, take nearly 30 years, and would be the largest cleanup task in the history of oil production.