And it's more than the Gulf of Mexico. Big Oil is plundering land and destroying lives all over the world -- and as bad as the Gulf spill is, it is the tip of an iceberg compared to damage across the globe. The photo at left is a river in the Niger delta that is contaminated by oil -- where over 9 million barrels of oil have been spilled in the last 50 years.
In Nigeria's Agony Dwarfs Gulf Oil Spill, John Vidal reports that majors spills are a daily occurrence in Nigeria, which has 606 oil fields, and supplies 40% of the crude imported by the United States. In fact, more oil is spilled from the Nigerian Delta's terminals, pipes, pumping stations, and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico.
Forests, farmland, and water are all covered in crude oil. In places where corroded pipes leak, there are sometimes pools of light crude that collect in low areas on the ground. These spills poison drinking water, farmland, and fishing areas.
During the first week in May this year, ExxonMobil spilled more than a million gallons of oil into the delta when a pipeline burst. A few days later, thousands of barrels where spilled when rebels attacked the Shell Trans Niger pipeline. Large spills happen regularly in Nigeria, but the world doesn't pay attention.
Right photocredit: George Esiri/Reuters.
Aside from the spilling, the air gets poisoned, as well. Ruptured pipelines burn all over the countryside, and explosions are a common sight; fires start because of poorly maintained infrastructure, vandals, and thieves. Gas flaring, which is used to dispose of the natural gas present with the oil, is supposed to be illegal, but is still commonly practiced in the Niger Delta. This practice wastes the gas, poisons the air, and blights the crops in the area. Experts estimate that Nigeria is burning billions of dollars in natural gas, because there they have no way to store or export it.
The Niger Delta is one of the most petroleum damaged ecosystems in the world, and it has been polluted chronically for the past fifty years -- its land is dead by many measures. The people of the Niger Delta hope that the Gulf spill will raise awareness about the true cost of oil around the world. Given that the US exports almost half of the oil they consume from Nigeria, they ask that Americans turn their eyes to oil spills around the world.
The oil companies do not want to be accountable for their mess, so there is much dispute about who is responsible for the spills. Shell International claims that the spills were caused by sabotage or unauthorized third party interference, so they refute liability; they say that they've cleaned up in accordance with applicable requirements, and have been certified by relevant government agencies.
Certainly there have been both peaceful and more forceful movements to push back against the oil companies, as citisven reports in Goodnight and Goodluck Johnathan: The Niger Delta Cries Out for EcoJustice:
It's no wonder the people have fought back and made things "complicated." From Isaac Adaka Boro's battles with Federal forces in the mid-1960s and Ken Saro Wiwa's nonviolent Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) against environmental degradation of the land and waters that ended in his 1995 execution, all the way to the current militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), when you're deprived of the land you depend on to survive and you see your natural treasures disappear into corrupt government officials' and foreign corporate coffers, you're left with little choice but to push back. As Sasha Chavkin recently reported for Shell Games in Nigeria, "Last summer MEND's attacks on the oil industry crippled production and threatened to bring the Nigerian economy to its knees."
Nobody disputes that there has been sabotage, but these protests are not even close to being responsible for the damage. Shell International seeks to use these protests to absolve themselves of responsibility for damaging the Niger Delta. The problem with holding Big Oil accountable is that the Nigerian government is a majority owner with the transnational oil companies that drill there -- so they are both regulator and regulatee; they reap profits from the oil sales along with Big Oil.
Marine biologist Rick Steiner, who worked on the Exxon-Valdez cleanup, thinks that it isn't too late to reverse the damage to the Niger Delta. He says that it's now or never, though. We must create consciousness and spark continued interest in the global impact that the oil industry has in the world, so they will be accountable for the damage they inflict.
Please help to raise awareness about the destruction that Big Oil has wrought on the Niger Delta -- it is a first step toward holding these corporations accountable. To start, Amnesty International has a quick action item, Tell Shell to Come Clean.
Key points for your letter:
-- Express your concern at the impact of Shell’s operations on the
human rights of the people of the Niger Delta.
-- Call on Shell to take swift action to clean up pollution associated
with its operations in consultation with affected communities and to
report on this publicly and regularly.
-- Call on Shell to assess and make public the environmental, social
and human rights impacts of its operations.
About the EcoJustice Africa series: Since the colonial period, empires have plundered, drilled, and mined the African continent with patent disregard for the dignity, living conditions, and human rights of native populations. Today, Africa suffers from severe deforestation and drought, erosion, famine, and disease: UNEP describes the continent as one of the region's most vulnerable to the ravages of climate change. This essay is the part of a series by the Daily Kos EcoJustice Team on environmental injustice in Africa.
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