BP in court
One of the largest environmental legal cases in UK legal history began in London yesterday as Colombian farmers bring their legal fight against BP to the High Court.
The four-month trial is the first time BP have faced the UK Courts over their business actions overseas and the first time compensation for environmental damage to privately owned land, caused by a UK oil company, has been litigated in the UK courts.
A British judge will be asked to assess whether BP breached agreements with Colombian farmers and were negligent in causing environmental damage to their farmlands due to the construction of the OCENSA oil pipeline across their private properties in the mid 1990s.
Lawyers for the 73 mostly subsistence farmers, known as ‘campesinos’, will argue that the British company Equion Energia (formerly BP Exploration (Colombia) Limited, or BPXC) negligently managed the construction of the OCENSA oil pipeline in Colombia during the mid 1990s, causing serious damage to their land.
They will also argue that they did not understand the importance of the contracts signed with BPXC and that they did not receive full and fair compensation for environmental damage under those agreements.
The OCENSA oil pipeline was a project undertaken by BP in the mid 1990s in partnership with Colombia’s national oil company and four other multinational European and Canadian companies, after BP discovered more crude oil in the Cusiana-Cupiagua oil fields.
BPXC entered into contracts with the farmers to lay the pipeline through their private land. The farmers claim that the construction of the OCENSA pipeline has caused severe soil erosion and sedimentation of lower lying fields and water sources, reduced vegetation coverage and areas for pasture and blocked up vital water sources, thereby significantly reducing the productivity of their farms. Some farmers say sedimentation of wells meant they did not have a source of drinking water for some time and had to seek alternative sources which were often difficult.
The Court will hear claims that BPXC played a central role in the design, implementation and management of the project and the construction process and that it is therefore liable for the damage to their land.
In 2010 BPXC changed its name to Equion after BP sold off its shares in BPXC in the wake of the Deep Water Horizon disaster.
This is an abridged version of an article originally published on the Leigh Day website.
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