Spills in Nigeria Dwarf Gulf Oil Spill Almost Every Year

Shell in the Niger Delta

More than 1,000 spill lawsuits have been filed against Shell alone.

One of the worst environmental disasters of our time is occurring right before our eyes. Sadly, it is not BP’s Gulf Oil Spill.

In May of this year an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, pouring a million gallons of crude into the delta before the leak was plugged. Just a week later, an explosion occurred at the Shell Trans Niger pipeline, spilling thousands of gallons into the river, the work of a saboteur. Days after that, a massive oil slick was found on Lake Adibawa. Then another massive slick discovered in Ogoniland.

The incident in the Gulf begins to pale in comparison when you realize that this has been going on for over fifty years in Nigeria, and the problem is only getting worse.

Royal Dutch Shell last year spilled 14,000 tons of crude into the creeks of the Niger delta. No accountability, no payouts to the residents and villages in the area. With over 600 oil fields in the area, and a massive, tangled network of pipelines, security is next to impossible. Some of the pipes are over 40 years old, rusty, and beginning to fail. Others are attacked by rebels, as militia groups and companies via for control of the black gold. According to a Nigerian government spokesman:

“We had 132 spills last year, as against 175 on average. Safety valves were vandalised; one pipe had 300 illegal taps. We found five explosive devices on one. Sometimes communities do not give us access to clean up the pollution because they can make more money from compensation”

Disaster in Niger Delta Oil Spill

Life expectancy in rural communities has sank to just over 40 years for the last two generations. Many communities have no access to clean water. Nigerian Nnimo Bassey, watches with amazement at the efforts being made in the Gulf by BP and the U.S.

“We see frantic efforts being made to stop the spill in the US,” said Nnimo, “But in Nigeria, oil companies largely ignore their spills, cover them up and destroy people’s livelihood and environments. The Gulf spill can be seen as a metaphor for what is happening daily in the oilfields of Nigeria and other parts of Africa.”

With Nigeria being markedly poorer nation the United States, people depend all the more on farming and fishing, and availability of fresh drinking water. The situation has spun completely out of control. Exact figures are hard to come by, since the government and the oil companies routinely cover up incidents. However, independent studies show there have been over 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and two thousand major spillage sites, in a place roughly two and a half times the size of California.

Niger Delta

The Gulf Oil spill is certainly a disaster, but its important to keep things in a global perspective. Nigeria as a much smaller nation with two thousand times the major spill sites of the United States. Over one thousand spillage lawsuits have been filled again Shell alone. One report by the World Conservation Union calculated in 2006, that up to 1.5 million tons of oil had been spilled in the delta over the last 50 years. To put that in perspective, that’s 50 times the size of the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster.

Ben Ikari stands over a growing oil slick, at a lake just outside of his village. One of the pipelines across the way has ruptured or has been tapped or sabotaged. The village community relies on this lake for its drinking water.

“The oil companies just ignore it. The lawmakers do not care and people must live with pollution daily.” says Ben, “The situation is now worse than it was 30 years ago. Nothing is changing. When I see the efforts that are being made in the US, I feel a great sense of sadness at the double standards. What they do in the US or in Europe is very different.”

The story is the same all across the country. Chief Promise, Village leader of the Otuegwe, recalls the Shells spill last year.

“We lost our nets, huts and fishing pots,” said Promise, “This is where we fished and farmed. We have lost our forest. We told Shell of the spill within days, but they did nothing for six months.”

The Niger delta supplies 40% of all imported crude oil for the United States. With the recent tragedy in the Gulf, one only hopes it might shed some light onto the Niger delta region, so that companies such as Shell or ExxonMobil will begin to take greater responsibility. This is needed now more than ever. As supplies begin to diminish, companies are drilling in deeper, more remote, and much riskier areas, the risk of major spills go up with every year.

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