Colombia farmers sue BP for $28.6M over environmental damages

(Photo: BP Global)

British oil giant BP and farmers from across Colombia began a legal battle in a UK court on Wednesday in one of the largest environmental cases in history.

More than a 100 Colombian small farmers took charges against the British petroleum giant BP for alleged negligence in the construction of a pipeline in mid-1990s.

The representatives of the farmers claimed that the negligence caused severe environmental damage on privately owned lands. The plaintiffs demand $28.6 million in compensation.

Alex Layton, the attorney for the farmers, told the court that “BP accuses everyone else, without recognizing its own responsibilities [for the damages].”

According to the attorney, BP Exploration (Colombia) Ltd signed an agreement with the locals before constructing the pipeline.

The farmers were never granted adequate compensation for the environmental devastation, said Layton.

“BP broke their promises” to compensate locals, the lawyer told the court.

Among the damages included in the lawsuit are “severe soil erosion, reduced vegetation coverage and damaged water resources, thus reducing the productivity of the farms.”

BP refused to acknowledge its alleged misconduct, reaffirmed its “strong” legal position and promised to vigorously fight the claim.

“BP believes that these measures were effective and that the construction of the pipeline was carried out to a high standard,” the oil company said in a statement.

According to the company’s defense strategy is that sufficient compensations were in fact paid out, and no material damage was suffered by farmers.

The pipeline extends throughout a great part of the country, cutting through departments of Casanare, Boyaca, Santander, Antioquia, Cordoba and Sucre.

According to the company, “it constitutes the backbone of the crude oil transportation system in Colombia.”

If the claim is successful, it might pave the way for similar cases by various communities in developing countries who argue they have been affected by oil companies and their failures to respect environment and private property.

The trial is due to last four months and involves 109 farmers from 73 properties.

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