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How much of damage can 4,100 barrels of spilled oil do? The agreed-upon answer, reports the Associated Press, will determine the terms of a settlement between Royal Dutch Shell and southern Nigerian communities over a 2008 spill.
Talks begin today between Shell officials and representatives of about 15,000 residents in the vicinity of the Bodo lagoon, where the spill took place. The international and human rights firm representing the affected communities say the spill, the worst in Nigeria’s history, caused the largest ever loss of mangrove habitat. They say it destroyed the livelihoods of many of the communities’ residents, the majority of which are subsistence fishermen and farmers, and affected about 30,000 people in all. A lawyer for the firm, Daniel Leader, said, “These people, since 2008 they are living on a creek of oil. You step out of the front door you see oil, breathe in oil and toxic fumes.”
Shell admitted responsibility for the spill, but is contesting its impact. Officials say the ultimate economic effects of the spill should be the only determining factor in the settlement. Still, independent experts, according to the law firm, say the 4,100 estimate is low, and that Shell in fact spilled between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels of oil into the lagoon.
Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email firstname.lastname@example.org.More Lindsay Abrams.