Niger Delta: an Exxon Valdez every year for 50 years

From a June 4 op-ed in the International Herald Tribune by Anene Ejikeme, “The Oil Spills We Don’t Hear About”:

Experts estimate that some 13 million barrels of oil have been spilt in the Niger Delta since oil exploration began in 1958. This is the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez every year for 50 years.

Although the Obama administration has come under much criticism for not responding quickly enough, nor adequately, to the BP oil spill, there is no denying that top government officials, including the president himself, have felt compelled to speak about the spill and to insist that BP will be held accountable.

How differently things play out in Nigeria. Not only does the Nigerian government usually not bother to issue statements, it never feels compelled to decry such spills.

Even more striking, perhaps, is the very different ways in which the international media deals with oil spills. Of course, it is entirely appropriate that the U.S. media have been giving constant coverage to the BP Gulf spill.

But it is not just the U.S. media that have been covering the Gulf disaster with great dedication… I would be willing to bet that even residents of the smallest Nigerian villages have heard about the Gulf oil spill. By contrast, I know few people in the United States who have heard about the oil spills in the Niger Delta. Yet Nigeria is among the top five suppliers of oil to the U.S.

The Niger Delta, which is home to more than 30 million people and is considered one of the world’s most important ecosystems, produces almost all of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings.

Dead fish and oily water are part of daily life for Niger Delta residents, as are gas flares… There is a law against gas flaring in Nigeria, but it continues to be widely breached.

Oil companies operate in Nigeria with little or no oversight from the government. It must be noted that the government has part ownership in the subsidiaries of all the oil multinationals which operate in Nigeria.

A year ago, Amnesty International published a report, “Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta.” The report focused on Royal Dutch Shell because Shell is by far the largest operator in the Delta. According to the Oil Spill Intelligence Report, a 10-year study commissioned by Greenpeace, although Shell operates in more than 100 countries, 40 percent of all its oil spills happen in Nigeria.

See our last posts on Nigeria, the Niger Delta, and the politics of oil spills.

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