Colombian farmers are coming to court seeking compensation from BP for serious damage they allege was caused by negligence in the building of a pipeline across their land.
The UK oil group is being sued at the High Court in London today for about £18m in what is believed to be one of the largest environmental cases of its kind.
The action, expected to last four months, is being brought by 73 mostly subsistence peasant farmers known as “campesinos”.
The case arises out of the construction of the Ocensa oil pipeline across their farmland in the mid 1990s after more crude oil was discovered in the Cusiana-Cupiagua oilfields.
The farmers entered into contracts with British company Equion Energia – formerly BP Exploration (Colombia) Ltd (BPXC).
They say negligence in the management of its construction resulted in soil erosion, reduced vegetation coverage and affected vital water sources. Agreements were allegedly also breached.
The Ocensa project was undertaken in a partnership with Colombia’s national oil company and four other multinational companies.
The legal battle comes after a recent ruling by a US court that BP acted with gross negligence during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
BP says construction of the Ocensa pipeline was carried out “to a high standard” and it will defend the case “vigorously”.
The hearing is in the Technology and Construction division of the High Court. A number of witnesses are expected to journey from remote rural parts of Colombia to give evidence.