Shell faces first Nigerian oil spill claims in UK
* Shell to face case under British jurisdiction - lawyers
* Oil major accepts responsibility for spills
* U.N. to release report on Nigeria spills on Thursday
By Joe Brock
ABUJA, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) has agreed that a Nigerian community impacted by its oil spills can seek compensation in a British court, lawyers in the case have said, potentially opening itself up to bigger future financial and reputational damages.
Shell said it does not comment on the legal process, which could take several months to reach a conclusion.
It has already accepted responsibility and promised to pay some form of compensation for the spills which took place in 2008 and 2009, destroying parts of the Bodo fishing communities in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta wetlands.
Protest groups have increasingly tried to seek compensation against western oil companies in the firms' home jurisdictions, where they get wider media coverage and usually larger payouts.
"SPDC (Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria) has always acknowledged that the two spills which affected the Bodo community, and which are the subject of this legal action, were operational," a statement from Shell said.
"SPDC is committed to cleaning up all spills when they occur, no matter what the cause."
Leigh Day & Co, the lawyers representing the Bodo communities, who live in the snaking, oil-rich creeks and waterways, said the case was the first of its kind because it would be held under British jurisdiction.
"SPDC has agreed to formally accept liability and concede to the jurisdiction of the UK," a statement on the law firm's website said.
"This is one of the most devastating oil spills the world has ever seen and yet it had gone almost unnoticed until we received instructions to bring about a claim against Shell in this country."
The spills follow decades of damage to the environment in Nigeria, according to rights groups. The lawyers and rights groups have said the amount of oil in these two spillages alone was approximately 20 percent of the amount leaked into the Gulf of Mexico following the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.
"BP did more in 6-months for the U.S. communities than Shell has done in 50 years for the Ogoniland," said Audrey Gaughran, director of the Global Thematic Issues Programme at human rights group Amnesty International.
The news comes a day before the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) presents an independent, scientific assessment of oil pollution in Ogoniland to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in the capital Abuja.
Shell stopped pumping oil from Ogoniland in the early 1990s after a sustained campaign, led by writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who claimed the Anglo-Dutch major had destroyed its communities. Saro-Wiwa was later hanged by the Nigerian military government, provoking international outrage.
Shell, which still owns pipelines and oil infrastructure in Ogoniland that can leak despite the company not operating there, said most spills in the Niger Delta are caused by sabotage and theft, including 13 spills in the Bodo area this year. (Additional reporting by Tom Bergin, Dmitry Zhdannikov and Gerard Wynn in London; Writing by Joe Brock)
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