Don’t forget Nigeria’s devastating oil spills
The massive leak in the Gulf of Mexico may have been stopped, but oil still continues to spread and flow. Scientists, local communities and businesses wait for the true toll of damage to be revealed as the rest of the world turns its attentions elsewhere.
Environmentalists desperately try to prevent the fossil fuel industry from destroying another pristine environment in the icy Arctic, but the thirst for oil is strong and the geopolitics surrounding it complex.
Yet there is another place where a devastating spill is continually taking place, poisoning lush ecosystems while destroying livelihoods and lives.
In Nigeria’s Niger River delta, oil companies like Shell, Chevron and Agip pollute heavily and on a daily basis, a tragedy compounded by a lack or rule of law in the region, criminality and militant activity. A recent and ongoing United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report has identified more than 300 oil spills in the Ogoniland region of the delta.
From an article in the Guardian:
[We] observed the oil slick floating on the lake. Destroyed fishing nets were also noticed in the polluted environment. The community is faced with incessant oil spills.
–Alagoa Morris, Friends of the Earth Nigeria
According to another report in the Guardian, a three-year UN investigation places 90% of the blame for the spills on criminal gangs, with the remaining 10% attributed to ‘equipment failures and company negligence’ on the part of Shell. For some, this news is understandably not so easy to swallow:
Tonight the investigation was accused of bias by Nigerians and environmental groups who said the study – paid for by Shell and commissioned by the Nigerian government, who both have massive oil interests in the region – was unbalanced.
To be fair to Shell and Nigeria, who else but the polluter(s) should pay for the study? The criminal gangs or militias who share the blame certainly won’t. Yet, in stark contrast to the UNEP’s findings, an Amnesty International report from last year – while acknowledging criminal contribution to the problem – placed the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of Shell.
Of course, there are sociopolitical forces relating to the oil industry and pollution in Ogoniland that are not cut and dry. The unequal distribution of wealth as well as the health and security of the Ogonis are the responsibility of the Nigerian government and plainly not the concern of Shell and other oil companies operating in the region, who take full advantage of the political and socioeconomic situation in Nigeria. Pollution and poverty are acceptable blowback, as long as long as it’s criminals who take the blame.
What is incontrovertible about the UN survey is the value of the amount information it is finding concerning the extent of contamination in the Niger delta. This data will at least be invaluable for future cleanup efforts.