Shell Sued Over Oil Spills in Nigeria

In a lawsuit that was filed in London's High Court thousands of Nigerian villagers are demanding compensation for an oil spill in 2008 that caused widespread destruction.

The group of villagers, comprised of around 11,000 Nigerians, has filed the suit against Royal Dutch Shell. They are seeking tens of millions of dollars in compensation for damages, which the villagers are claiming have prevented them from working and living off the land.

Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) is a joint venture between Nigeria's state oil firm, Shell, EPNL and Agip, and had previously taken responsibility of the spill, but dispute the extent of damages caused.

SPDC stated that the extent of the oil spilled was around 4,000 gallons and was due in large part to sabotage and also illegal siphoning of oil in the region.

However, lawyers representing the villagers claim that as much as 600,000 gallons spilled into the area which is located in the Niger Delta. The lawyers have also rejected a previous settlement offer.

"They made an offer and the community quite rightly said this is ridiculously low," said Martyn Day, of the London law firm Leigh Day & Co, who is leading legal proceedings.

Shell spokesman Jonathan French in an interview with MSNBC explained that he was surprised that they decided to move forward with the suit.

"There really has been no need for the legal activity which has delayed the payout and cleanup," he said. "We accepted responsibility at the earliest point we could ... there was no need for this firm of London solicitors to take action."

French explains that there is currently a system in place that describes the levels of compensation for certain types of occurrences and the current legal action could slow the payout process.

"Nobody is saying is that there isn't a problem with oil spills in the Niger Delta…The point is that there is this formula enshrined in Nigerian law that spells out level of compensation," French said.

This case has greater implications that reach beyond this case. Experts expect that any judgment could set a new precedent for future claims against oil companies as well as pending court cases such as Chevron's protracted dispute with Ecuador.

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