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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