A U.K court ruled on Wednesday that two groups of Nigerian villagers can pursue lawsuits against Royal Dutch Shell for alleged damages caused by oil spills in the Niger Delta region.
According to the BBC, the Technology and Construction Court found that the claimants can pursue cases against Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) and its parent company in the UK.
Shell has not commented on the ruling.
The two separate actions are being brought by the Bille and Ogale communities who are being represented by UK-based Leigh Day.
In a statement, Leigh Day said the clean up costs for both communities could “run into several hundred million pounds.”
“The claims from the thousands of individuals affected by this pollution, could run into tens of millions of pounds given the impact on these communities,” Leigh Day added.
Leigh Day confirmed on Wednesday that formal legal proceedings will now move forward against Royal Dutch Shell and the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria in the High Court in London.
Shell told CNBC that it believes that the cases should be heard in Nigeria.
The Ogale community claims that Shell has not followed the recommendations of a 2011 report from the United Nations Environmental Program that found emergency measures should be undertaken to provide residents with clean water.
The report found at least 10 Ogoni communities where drinking water “contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons,” with residents in the Nisisioken Ogale community drinking water from wells contaminated with benzene at levels “over 900 times above World Health Organization guidelines.”
The Bille community alleges that oil spilling out of the Nembe Creek 30” Trunkline since the replacement of the pipeline’s Bille section in 2010 has damaged 13,200 hectares of mangroves.
Shell refuted the allegations, telling CNBC that the company’s Nigerian subsidiary had “initiated action” to address the recommendations made in the United Nations report.
“In mid-2015 SPDC JV, along with the government, UNEP and representatives of the Ogoni community, agreed to an 18-month roadmap to fast-track the environmental clean-up and remediation of Ogoniland which includes a governance framework,” Shell added.
No further hearing dates have been set for the two cases yet.
Shell has long contended with pipeline spills in the Niger Delta region that it has said were caused by sabotage or thieves breaking into the pipelines to steal oil.
Managing Director of Shell Nigeria Mutiu Sunmonu said in August 2011 that the company has “always accepted responsibility for paying compensation when [spills] occur as a result of operational failure.”
“Even when, as is true in the great majority of cases, spills are caused by illegal activity such as sabotage or theft, we are also committed to cleaning up spilt oil and restoring the surrounding land,” Sunmonu added.
Leigh Day also represented the Bodo community of Nigeria who reached an $83 million settlement with Shell in January 2015 for two 2008 pipeline spills.