Within a day of the US Supreme Court decision to hear the case of Kiobel v Shell, which accuses Shell of complicity in crimes against humanity and human rights abuses in Nigeria during the 1990s, the oil giant was hit by another class action lawsuit for 50 years of pollution in the Niger Delta.
The suit was brought on behalf of the people of Ogale in the Eleme local government area, where the UN [Environment Programme] team found the most serious groundwater contamination and people drinking water laced with cancer-causing benzene at 900 times World Health Organization guidelines.
The horrifying extent of the pollution in the Ogoni region of the Delta, which has been widely known since the 1990s, was raised again to international condemnation in August 2011, as the UN published its assessment of the ecological impact of oil spills, many caused by Shell. In Ogale, the UNEP team made a number of shocking discoveries.
Scientists found an eight centimeter layer of refined oil floating on the groundwater that served [local drinking] wells. The oil was linked to a spill that had occurred six years earlier and was not properly cleaned up.
UNEP called Ogale “the most serious case of groundwater contamination” they surveyed, and “this contamination warrants emergenct action ahead of all other remediation efforts.” It went on to confirm the grave human cost of the pollution:
Exposure to such high levels of hydrocarbons is certain to lead to long-term health consequences for community members. This situation warrants the immediate action of stopping people from drinking water from the contaminated wells and providing them with alternative an source of safe water.
Despite the health crisis in Nigeria and the UN’s emergency recommendations, Shell claims to be “studying the [UNEP] recommendations carefully”. It has not reported taking any action to clean up Ogale’s poisoned water wells. Shell declined to comment on the story.