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Nigerian farmers sue Shell in Dutch court

Associated Press Modified: October 11, 2012 at 6:15 am •  Published: October 11, 2012
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An earlier Dutch court ruling accepted Shell's assertion that the leaks were caused by sabotage, but lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that the judges should revisit that decision, saying the pipe was seriously corroded.

They added that Shell did not clean up the spills quickly enough.

"Shell did not do enough to prevent the oil spreading and damaging the plaintiffs' land," the villagers' lawyer, Channa Samkalden, told the court. "Shell did not act as a careful oil company."

Tjeenk said Shell's Nigerian subsidiary SPDC cleans up oil spills including those caused by sabotage in the Niger Delta even though it is not legally bound to so and invests in replacing aging pipelines.

Shell's local subsidiary remains the top foreign oil producer in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta, a region of mangroves and swamps about the size of Portugal. Its production forms the backbone of crude production in Nigeria, a top supplier to the gasoline-thirsty U.S.

Shell, which discovered and started the country's oil well in the late 1950s, remains demonized by activists and local communities over oil spills and close ties to government security forces. Some Shell pipelines that crisscross the delta are decades old and can fail, causing massive pollution.

Shell, however, has begun an effort in the last decade to build clinics, roads and even natural gas power plants for the region. The company blames most spills now on thieves who tap into crude oil pipelines to steal oil.

A judgment in the case is expected late this year or early in 2013.

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Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.