Shell is being sued in London for the second time in five years over spills in the Niger Delta.
Two communities are claiming compensation and want the oil giant to clean up their land.
Shell said it is at an “early stage” in reviewing the claims and that the case should be heard in Nigeria.
The Ogale community of about 40,000 people in Rivers State, on the coast of Nigeria, who are mainly farmers or fishermen, are some of the claimants.
Spills since 1989 have meant they don’t have clean drinking water, farmland or rivers, their claim says.
It points to a November 2015 report by Amnesty International which says four spill sites Shell says it planned to clean up are still contaminated.
The first court hearing at the Technology and Construction Court, held on March 2, found that the claimants can lodge a case against Shell’s Nigerian business, known as Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC). Shell declined to comment on the ruling.
Amnesty International’s findings followed a 2011 report by United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) which found water contaminated with oil by-products including benzene, thought to be a carcinogen. It suggested a cleanup, but said a “sustainable recovery” of the area could take up to 30 years.
Shell says it has agreed a clean-up plan.
“In mid-2015 SPDC JV, along with the government, UNEP and representatives of the Ogoni community, agreed to an 18-month roadmap to fast-track the environmental clean-up and remediation of Ogoniland which includes a governance framework,” the company said in a statement.
The Bille community, who are mainly fishermen and are the other party to sue, claims Shell should be liable for “failing to protect their pipelines from damage caused by third parties”, according to law firm Leigh Day.
Pipelines in the area have been targets for thieves who steal crude oil and try to refine it locally. This has lead to more spills and damage though explosions.
In January 2015, Shell agreed to an $84 million settlement with residents of the Bodo community in the Niger Delta for two oil spills.
The same law firm, Leigh Day, said their 15,600 clients would receive $3,300 each for losses caused by the spills.
The remaining $30 million would be left for the community, which Leigh Day said was “devastated by the two massive oil spills in 2008 and 2009”.
That dispute began in 2011.