In a historic first, BP hit by legal action alleging that its excessive gas flaring caused death of young Iraqi

London, Tuesday 23rd April 2024 - An Iraqi national, Hussein Julood, has sent a Letter Before Action (LBA) to BP plc on 22 April, seeking damages for the death of his son, who he claims died from cancer caused by the oil giant’s gas flaring. This is the first time that a fossil fuel corporation has been faced with a lawsuit in the UK relating to flaring overseas. 

Ali’s story

Ali Hussein, Mr Julood's son, was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 15 (1). The cancer caused him to drop out of school, leave his football team and spend years undergoing painful and invasive medical treatment. Ali died on 21st April 2023, at the age of 21.

Ali and his family grew up near Rumaila in Iraq, a town with cancer rates so high that locals call it “the cemetery”. Rumaila is one of the largest oil fields in the world where BP has extracted oil for over a decade. A BBC investigation (2) in 2022 analysed World Bank data and estimated that more flaring is carried out at Rumaila than at any other oil field in the world. This is despite BP’s claims over many years that it is committed to the reduction of methane emissions and flaring. The same investigation found compelling evidence that communities like Ali's are exposed to high levels of toxic emissions from BP's gas flaring, and have abnormally high cancer rates.

In response to Ali’s death, BP appeared to recognise that the rate of flaring at Rumaila was too high: it claimed that it was working hard to reduce instances of flaring in Iraq. This is no answer to local people who have already suffered years of exposure to harmful pollutants.

Corporate accountability

Iraqi law is clear in its environmental regulations: oil refineries should not be located within 10 kilometres of individuals’ homes and compensation must be paid by those causing unlawful environmental harm; in Rumaila, evidence suggests flaring takes place just 5km away from where local communities live. The Iraqi Penal Code also prohibits deliberately or negligently releasing emissions that cause harm to others.

In his letter to BP plc, Mr Julood claims that senior management made decisions that permitted excessive gas flaring to persist at the Rumaila oilfield, where a local BP subsidiary was the lead contractor. It is further alleged that such flaring ultimately resulted in the illness and death of his son. Mr Julood’s father is represented by international law firm Hausfeld & Co. LLP. The oil company should now formally acknowledge the LBA and has 90 days to respond substantively.

“My son was my best friend,” said Mr. Julood. “Despite his suffering, Ali sought justice for all the people in the community who have been affected by flaring and those suffering from the same issues around the world. Companies like BP still appear to be in breach of Iraqi law by gas flaring illegally close to people’s homes. That’s why I am demanding damages from BP for the loss of my courageous son, Ali. BP and all their counterparts must take responsibility for the death and illness they bring to the world.”

Gas flaring is the burning of excess gas, produced as a by product from the extraction of oil (3). The International Energy Agency, the World Bank (3) and other international institutions have criticised gas flaring, as it releases cancer-linked pollutants such as benzene into the air. BP has previously expressed concerns about flaring (5), following evidence (4) revealed by the BBC of extensive and unreported flaring occurring at Rumaila. The World Health Organization has said there is no safe level of benzene that humans can be exposed to.

Legal action

The sending of the LBA is the first step in the litigation process in England. It sets out the details of the claim and invites BP to respond. If no such agreement can be reached, and if BP cannot respond satisfactorily to Mr Julood’s allegations, the next stage will be to formally issue proceedings in court.

Wessen Jazrawi, partner at Hausfeld said: “This is an important example of environmental and human rights litigation demanding 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.”

Iraqi law – which is likely to apply even though the legal action is taking place in the UK – allows individuals to claim compensation where they have been caused harm and specifically prohibits the release of gas or emissions that cause harm to others. Oil companies are increasingly targeted by lawsuits around the world, seeking redress for their impact on the environment and local communities, for example, in Nigeria against Shell (6) and in Ecuador against PetroOriental (6).

BP's Annual General Meeting on 25 April 2024

Wessen Jazrawi and Patrick Kenny attended the AGM on 25 April and made the following statement on behalf of Hussein Julood:

"I am asking this question on behalf of my client, Hussein Julood. On behalf of the people of Basra, I want to say that we never thought your oil operations would be so harmful to our community or the environment. As ordinary citizens, we’ve heard about BP's professionalism and dedication to environmentally responsible practices. You changed your company logo to green to show that you care for the environment, but you are doing the opposite in Basra. Your operations have devastated the health and environment of communities around your oil fields.

The facilities at Rumaila are being operated less than 10km away from residential areas in violation of local law, emitting untreated toxic gases into the air. You claim to have reduced gas flaring, but a huge amount is still ongoing, filling the sky with thick black smoke. While you adhere to environmental standards elsewhere, you openly disregard both human rights and environmental protections in Iraq.

My son Ali and I will stand as eternal witnesses to your actions. I hold you responsible for my son's early death, age 21, of leukaemia, and the financial and emotional hardships my family now faces. While I seek reparations for my son’s death, Ali’s mother and I will never be compensated for the pain in our hearts.

We all know that there has been significant flaring at the Rumaila oil field where you are the lead contractor; we know that such flaring releases toxic emissions and carcinogenic chemicals; we know that those living near Rumaila, including children, have died from cancer at disproportionate rates. Will you now commit to compensating those who have suffered and make meaningful reductions in flaring?"


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Media enquiries

For questions to Mr Hussein Julood please contact:
Dorka Bauer on

For questions about the legal action, please contact:
Silvia Van Den Bruel on

  1. In 2017, Ali Hussein Julood, a young Iraqi man living next to the BP-operated Rumaila oilfield near Basra, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. He was 15 years old. On 21st April 2023, after many years of invasive and expensive medical treatment, Ali passed away. He planned to raise the issues of toxic flaring at the BP AGM last year.
  2. The BBC investigation in 2022.
  3. Gas flaring is the burning of excess gas, produced as a by-product from the extraction of oil. Flaring has been criticised by various international bodies, particularly the International Energy Agency and the World Bank, as it releases cancer-linked pollutants such as benzene into the air.
  4. The British oil giant holds the largest stake in the operating organisation of the Rumaila Oilfield. The BBC found that BP has been involved in the Iraqi oil industry for over a century, and showed evidence of extensive and unreported flaring occurring at Rumaila.
  5. BP themselves claim to be concerned by and seek to limit instances of gas flaring, and they put out a statement claiming that over the past 6 years, it had reduced gas flaring by 60%.
  6. Lawsuits have been brought against Shell’s operations in Nigeria, and PetroOriental in Ecuador.