Four Nigerian villagers are suing the multinational corporation, claiming oil seeped from Shell's pipeline in the Niger Delta and caused untold damage to fishing and farming in the area.
Their case has been supported by environmental campaigners from Friends of the Earth in the Netherlands and Nigeria.
Alali Efanga, from Oruma, one of the four plaintiffs, said: "Since the spill I have lost most of my income. Now (Other OTC: NWPN - news) we live from hand to mouth: sometimes I go into the bush, sometimes a company gives me a day's work for 500 Naira (the equivalent of £2)."
It is alleged tens of millions of gallons of oil leak from the system of pipes in the region, often because of poor maintenance.
Shell has admitted that such incidents doubled in 2011 from 32 to 64, but insists it is doing everything it can to minimise damage.
Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC) has asked the International Union for Conservation of Nature, to set up a panel of experts to provide the company with recommendations to help restore the biodiversity and habitats at SPDC spill sites.
But Friends of the Earth says the corporation's efforts are insufficient.
FoE spokesman Nnimmo Bassey said: "They pollute with impunity, destroy livelihoods and block dissent. This is deplorable."
The case could have international significance, opening the door to civil claims being pursued in a company's home country for damage that happened overseas.