Thousands of Nigerians are asking British judges to give them permission to sue Royal Dutch Shell Plc in London; over environmental damage caused by oil spills 3,000 miles away in Africa.
Lawyers for residents of the crude-rich Niger Delta believe a landmark U.K. Supreme Court ruling last year against a London-based miner should set a precedent. Shell has blocked the suit twice from entering British courts; and says the litigation should be heard in the West African country.
Oil companies are hurting from squeezed profits as the coronavirus pandemic has destroyed demand and pushed prices lower. Adding to its worries, Shell might also face legal battles in the U.K., as well; those already underway in the Netherlands, that could expose the firm to higher damages for causing pollution in the developing world.
An April 2019 decision that allowed a group of Zambians to proceed to trial against Vedanta Resources Plc for pollution; caused by a copper-mining unit clarifies the law around a company’s duty of care to those affected by operations of a subsidiary.
Robert Meade, an attorney at Bracewell LLP who specializes in oil and gas clarified this.
Still, “it does not mean that a parent company might be liable for its subsidiaries’ actions or inaction,” he said.
Daniel Leader, a partner at Leigh Day representing the Nigerian claimants, said the English courts should hold the oil major to account in English courts “for the devastating damage Shell has caused to their communities over many years.”
Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer; and also depends on crude for about half of government revenue and 90% of export earnings. However, thousands of spills over decades have destroyed the livelihoods of fishing and farming communities in the southeast of the country; including more than 40,000 people from the Bille and Ogale communities who are trying to force Shell to pay compensation and clean up.