06 June 2010

Other environmental disasters

The BP oil spill is an unmitigated man-made disaster. But it happens elsewhere, and we generally do not hear about it. Until now: The Oil Spills We Don't Hear About:
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. Some middle-aged Niger Delta residents have never had a night of total darkness. 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. That’s simply staggering. The Greenpeace and Amnesty reports tell of spills that had been continuous for years and many that had never been cleaned up (despite claims by Shell to the contrary).

According to the Amnesty report, “Oil spills, waste dumping and gas flaring are notorious and endemic in the Niger Delta.” Residents of the Niger Delta “have to drink, cook with and wash in polluted water, and eat fish contaminated with oil and other toxins.” The fish that is not polluted is killed by the oil and toxins, making earning a livelihood impossible for many who depended on the sale of fish.

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