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Iraqi father in legal first against BP over son’s death

Hussein Julood sits in his home town of Rumaila carrying prayer beads

A father has started legal action against UK oil giant BP over the death of his 21-year-old son.

Hussein Julood alleges the burning off of gas at a BP-run oil field in Iraq – a practise known as flaring – caused his son Ali’s leukaemia.

A BBC investigation in 2022 found Ali’s village, which lies within the field, had high levels of cancer-causing pollutants known to come from flaring.

BP said “we understand the concerns” and are supporting change.

The case is believed to be the first time an individual has started legal action against a major oil firm over its flaring practices.

The claim letter – which has been seen by BBC News – alleges that Ali’s leukaemia and subsequent death was caused by “toxic emissions from the Rumaila oilfield”, and that BP is partly responsible as the lead contractor.

Mr Julood is seeking compensation for the cost of his son’s medical treatment – including overseas chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants – loss of earnings, funeral costs, as well as the “moral loss” of his son.

“I am just hoping for those who hear my voice, from BP, to consider my situation. I am not representing myself alone, I am also representing those poor people living here and suffering from pollution,” Hussein Julood told BBC News.

Wessen Jazrawi, partner at Hausfeld & Co, which is representing Mr Julood, said: “This is an important example of environmental litigation seeking compensation for harmful emissions from a carbon major. Such companies have generally been able to carry out harmful environmental practices with impunity, particularly where these occur in the Global South.”

Gas flaring is the burning of gas released in oil extraction; it is dangerous for human health as the gas can contain a mixture of harmful cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene.

Rumaila oil field has the highest documented levels of flaring in the world, according to BBC analysis of World Bank figures.

Hussein Julood said one of the most crucial goals of his claim was that regular flaring should be stopped in Rumaila so that more families did not suffer.

Ali Julood pictured in 2021 in his home

Ali passed away last year after battling leukaemia for six years [Jess Kelly/BBC]

Ali was just 15 when he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia and underwent two years of treatment including multiple courses of chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and radiotherapy.

His father said he was a keen footballer and enjoyed school, but after so many stays in hospital he was unable to return to classes. In 2021, he was confirmed to be in remission and was excited about the future – he opened a phone shop locally.

A year later, he was found to be in relapse. His father tried desperately to raise funds to send him to India for experimental treatment. However, Ali passed away on 21 April last year before he could make the trip.

Speaking to the BBC, Ali’s father said: “It was a very sad year for the family. For me, his mother, and his brothers too. Ali was an unforgettable person, he was my backbone, I depended on him in my work, my life, and in everything in the house. All the days we live are sad.”

In 2021, Ali documented his life living within the boundaries of Rumaila oil field as part of a BBC investigation into flaring.

The BBC also undertook the first pollution monitoring in Rumaila and other local communities. The results indicated high levels of exposure to benzene and other carcinogens – substances that can increase the risk of cancer – and suggested local people were at elevated risk of leukaemia as a result of flaring.

Ali's school football team in primary schoolAli's school football team in primary school

Ali (bottom row, second right) was a keen footballer – seen here with his school team [Family handout]

The Iraqi government is the owner of the Rumaila oil field but BP is the lead contractor for managing the site with partners PetroChina, in a consortium called Rumaila Operating Organisation (ROO).

The operating standards for ROO – which BP signed – state: “Those who are impacted by pollution levels that exceed national limits are legally entitled to compensation.”

BP’s share of flaring emissions from Rumaila — based on its participating interest in the field’s operating company of 47.6% — stood at 3.7m tonnes CO2e in 2021. That’s more than the emissions of two million UK cars annually.

Although the activity happened in Iraq, Mr Julood is able to bring the claim in the UK courts because BP’s headquarters is in the UK.

In response to BBC’s request for comment, BP said: “As we have stated before, BP is not and has never been the operator of the Rumaila field. Nevertheless, we continue to actively support the lead contractor – Basra Energy Company Limited (BECL) – in its work to help the operator of the field, the Rumaila Operating Organisation (ROO), to reduce its flaring and emissions.”

Last year, after the BBC documentary was aired, and just a week after Ali’s death, Mr Julood addressed the BP board at the company’s Annual General Meeting and asked it to stop gas flaring.

Bernard Looney, who was chief executive at the time, said that flaring was an issue at the site and Rumaila Operating Organisation was looking to reduce it.

On the health impacts Mr Looney said: “We continue to engage with local community representatives as you would expect….[ROO] is prioritising social welfare [and] fund support for community health initiatives.”

But since then, Mr Julood says he has seen flaring and black smoke on an almost daily basis.

“It is only fake promises. There is no improvement. The environment is polluted in a way you cannot breathe,”Mr Julood told BBC News.

Mr Julood also claimed there have been four or five deaths locally from cancer since Ali died, including a young boy last month.

Mr Julood’s lawyers said BP can enter negotiations on compensation or it can refute the claim.

If BP refutes the claim the next step would be for Hussein Julood to issue a court claim and the case could then be heard before judges in the UK.

BBC iPlayerBBC iPlayer

[BBC]

Under Poisoned Skies

The deadly impact of the oil giants’ toxic air pollution on children and the planet is revealed in this BBC News Arabic investigation from the front line of climate change in Iraq.

The documentary is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer (UK only) and internationally on the BBC website.

BBC iPlayerBBC iPlayer

[BBC]

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