Colombian farmers unite to sue oil giant BP in London’s High CourtNovember 2014
A group of 109 Colombian farmers is suing the British oil multinational BP over a pipeline that they claim harmed their land, crops and animals.
The farmers protest that BP caused severe soil erosion and sedimentation of fields and water sources, damaged vegetation and pastures, and blocked water courses so that productivity was severely reduced.
The High Court in London will decide whether BP breached agreements with the farmers and was negligent in causing environmental damage when it laid the Ocensa pipeline through their properties in the mid-1990s.
The farmers’ lawyers say they did not understand the contracts signed with the BP company – Equion Energia, formerly BP Exploration (Colombia) – and did not receive fair compensation for environmental damage. The farmers now want £18m ($28.8m, €22.6m) extra compensation.
One of the six farmers brought to London as witnesses, Rogelio Velez Montoya, said: “I have lost cattle. I can no longer keep pigs or chickens because there is not enough water for them.”
Rodrigo de Jesus Mesa said: “After the pipeline was laid our water sources filled up with mud. It made farming very difficult, but I can’t even sell the farm because of the pipeline.”
BP says it has already paid the farmers fully for using their land and had tried to ensure no harm was caused.
The company has stated: “The Ocensa pipeline project in Colombia involved significant steps being taken at the time of construction to engage with local communities … and ensure that the land that the pipeline traversed suffered no material damage.
“BP believes that these measures were effective and that the construction of the pipeline was carried out to a high standard.”
The case began last month and is expected to last four months. If successful, it could trigger claims by other communities in developing countries that have complained of environmental and social damage from pipelines.
In the Gulf of Mexico oil spill case BP has formally asked for a new judgment or a retrial from the New Orleans court that convicted it of gross negligence. BP argues that half the bad decisions that the judge ruled had contributed to the disaster had been linked to it only by expert witness Gene Beck, of Texas AM University – and that the judge had dismissed Beck’s statements.
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