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Environment, Niger Delta, Nigeria

Niger Delta: Oil spills in perspective

Last week environmental activists from across the world including Nigeria, Ecuador and Burma were prevented by Chevron from entering the shareholders meeting despite having legal shareholding proxies. Below activist Niger Delta Emem Okon spoke to Democracy Now! on the actions of Chevron and other oil companies operating in Nigeria – Shell, Mobil, Elf and Agip. One point she raised in respect of the BP oil spill was the comparison between the news media’s reports and public outcry in the US and the relative lack of both in Nigeria where oil spills have been taking place for the past 50 years. For example the Exxon Valdez in 1989 spilled an estimated 10.8 million US gallons (40.9 million litres, or 250,000 barrels) of crude oil. Compare this with oil spills in the Delta

Up to 1.5 million tons of oil, 50 times the pollution unleashed in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster, has been split in the ecologically precious Niger Delta over the past 50 years, it was revealed yesterday.

A panel of independent experts who travelled to the increasingly tense and lawless region said damage to the fragile mangrove forests over the past 50 years was tantamount to a catastrophic oil spill occurring every 12 months in what is one of the world’s most important ecosystems.

As well as threatening rare species including primates, fish, turtles and birds, the pollution is destroying the livelihoods of many of the 20 million people living there, damaging crops and fuelling the upsurge in violence, it was claimed.

Last year alone Shell admitted to spilling 14,000 tones of oil. However the oil companies in Nigeria have consistently blamed oil spills on poor farmers and fisher men and women and more recently on militants. Whilst this may be the true in a small number of cases a great deal of spills are due first to pipes which are old and rusted and irregularly maintained; and secondly the fact that the many pipelines run overground in front of built up areas even in front of peoples homes and are therefore more vulnerable to accidental damage. Their denial of responsibility also ignores why the pipelines are located in highly built up areas and near to fishing ponds / creeks and farmlands.

Oil spills are only part of the story. There is also the environmental and health impact of 50 years of gas flaring and again the oil companies have repeatedly denied any of the health claims by local communities. Common sense would tell anyone who has seen a gas flare pit [gas flares burn either on the ground in pits or in the sky] with red hot flames spewing black spoke, dust and grit that this must be a health hazard to anyone living or working nearby. Note the date to end gas flaring has been constantly delayed

If one positive thing comes out of the massive personal and environmental assault that is taking place in the Gulf – let it be a wake up call for all of us in this oil dependent world and a call to action to stop the criminal and exploitative actions of transnational oil companies.

Emem Okon on Chevron’s actions

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  1. Eremipagamo

    Great post. I've actually been wondering about this since the spill began. You inspired me to do a little math, and by my calculations the oil spilled by BP since in the past 40 days is slightly more than a third of the 1.5mil tonnes spilled in the Delta. In any case, pretty horrific.

    One can only hope that the spill in the Gulf of Mexico draws attention to other regions suffering under the oil industry.

    In case anyone wants to check my math, a few links:

    70,000 barrels per day spilling into the gulf (+/- 20,000 barrels)
    7.2 barrels = 1 tonne
    1.5mil tonnes spilled in the Delta in the last 50 years

  2. re: Lack of media reports and public outcry in Nigeria..
    When the fuss US spills first happened, I wondered why the Nigerian media and Nigeria-, UK- and US- based ND groups weren't capitalising on this opening in the media.. Remember Saro Wiwa and JINN are strategically placed..

    It is unfortunate that Nigerians as a whole do not see this as their fight.. Many simply see the militants (both those led by the heart and those led by the wallet) as trouble makers and can't be bothered if the JTF took over all of ND.. I think that comes from not the ingrained selfishness of the Nigerian and from not hearing the stories of ordinary people in the ND.. That's why a film line Sweet Crude is great but it needs more screenings..
    I hope that in justifying US anger at BP that the world will come to understand the anger of the ND militants.. I'm sure that given the same circumstances, the Americans would attack oil rigs and kidnap staff..

    Is there anything that those of us in England and the US can do while this story is still hot?.. What do you suggest?

  3. Sokari

    Wow thanks for doing this maths – its actually worse than I imagined. The thing with the Gulf spill is that one sees the amounts in their totality in a single spill and therefore really brings home the damage done. So in 35 days [for eg] 240,300 tonnes have been split compared with 1.5 mil in the Delta over 50 yrs.

  4. Sokari

    I suggest publicising the ND [see Eremipagamo's comment] as much as possible. But really the Niger Delta has always been at the extremities of Nigerian consciousness. Before the militants ie prior to 2004/5 the region was hardly ever reported. Since then the media with cohorts with the government have made militants the focus rather than the environment and militarisation,. Even now I have seen nothing in the Nigerian media that makes a connection to the Gulf and the ND.

  5. kyky

    u people leaving comments on this, get a freakin life holy crap..who cares about doing the math on this crap..”omg u inspired me to find my inner self n do math that has nothing to do with my life” get a woman or a man or ur partner cause u sound pretty gay but im not judging n gte out of ur house

  6. akintunde

    just back from a spill site in Bodo community in Ogoni……..the situation is still terrible Sokari!!!!!!
    will post some pix from the site om my website……
    But i must admit that as much as the media may want to try to report, especially in visuals, the delta region remains the most dangerous place to do visual reportage……….the jtf is a torn on the flesh and the criminals have taken over from the militant since after the amnesty programme began!


  7. Sokari

    Hi Akin – Long time. I will try to call

  8. Hhart

    I am very tormented and sad for our planet and our people. History has shown that those whose only ambition is to profit, typically cause the majority of people to suffer. When will we wake up? When will the majority of us get together and put an end to this? I, like many of us, go to work every day, raise a family, pay the bills, worship god and try and squeeze a little fun in when I can. Do you know what? We are all fools, falling into this trap. We need to get together and take back our country, our environment and our planet. The supreme being is looking down on us and just shaking his head….