Friday, June 25, 2010

From the Gulf of Mexico to the Niger Delta

The United States is blessed with abundant natural resources, including petroleum, as has recently been emphasized by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. That this nation is able to decide that it will not exploit the petroleum deposits onshore and off coastal areas is made possible by the supplies of oil coming from other countries. Americans are justifiably concerned by the environmental dangers of oil spills, such as the estimated 2.5 million U.S. gallons of oil pumped into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico each day for more than two months now. However, supplying oil always poses some risks, and if Americans don’t take such risks, that means someone else is – for example the residents of Nigeria’s Niger Delta.

The Gulf oil spill is the largest in U.S. history and has engendered tremendous worldwide coverage and international offers of help for an incident that could affect countries far beyond the United States, depending on where the ocean currents carry the oil into international waters. Yet the people of the Niger Delta have lived with smaller, but more frequent, oil spills for many years now.

According to reliable estimates, between 1970 and 2000, there were as many as 7,000 oil spills in the Delta area, and some believe that is a serious underestimation of the number of oil spills that actually took place. There are about 2,000 sites in the Delta that leak oil continuously and are considered major spillage sites. Last year alone, there were 132 oil spills. The annual average is 175 oil spills.
But while British Petroleum (BP) has agreed to pay out at least US$20 billion in damages to Americans, Shell has acknowledged spilling 14,000 tons of crude oil into the Delta last year, and there is no record of any kind of payment to those negatively impacted. Unlike the U.S. government, the Nigerian government’s ability and willingness to set and enforce safety and environmental rules and regulations is highly inadequate. We debate here in the United States whether President Barack Obama and his Administration has acted swiftly enough or overreached his authority in pressing BP to create a compensation fund. The residents of the Niger Delta would be thanking their Maker if their government took such strong action to defend their interests.

The seafood and tourism industries in several Gulf states stand to lose billions in business due to the results from the oil spill. Over the past two months, the media has carried stories of watermen who can no longer earn a living from the seafood from contaminated waters. We see restaurants and hotels nearly empty, as tourists avoid what they believe is a contaminated area. Formerly pristine beaches are empty or littered with tar balls and oil-covered animals. The devastations from oil spills is certainly familiar to residents of the Niger Delta.

In 1983, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation issued a report about the impact of what they saw as negligent operations by oil companies in the Niger Delta:
“We witnessed the slow poisoning of the waters of this country and the destruction of vegetation and agricultural land by oil spills which occur during petroleum operations. But since the inception of the oil industry in Nigeria, more than twenty-five years ago, there has been no concerned and effective effort on the part of the government, let alone the oil operators, to control environmental problems associated with the industry,” the report stated.

The negative impact of oil spills in the Delta includes not only the killing of current marine life, but also the eggs of next season’s sea catch. Oil is stored in coastal soils and released later during floods, damaging the land on which farmers grow crops and on which people live. Rare forms of cancer are seen in the Delta area, believed to be caused by continuous exposure of crude oil. Militancy by groups outraged by uncompensated damage from oil spills has been met by an often violent government response that places residents in the middle of gun battles and subject to reprisals they do not deserve.

In the Niger Delta, as in the Gulf of Mexico, an oil spill prevention and cleanup is the joint responsibility of the oil company involved and the government of the country in which it occurs. Lax or non-existent rules and regulations on oil operations invites problems, as local managers will always look for ways to cut costs, especially when revenues drop due to lower petroleum prices; some authority has to make sure that cost-cutting doesn’t come with increased risk of pollution. Oil companies are corporations with stockholders who expect dividends to be paid if revenue warrants it. If there is no system to require that damages be paid, these companies will be reluctant to offer damage payments on their own. The failure of government to effectively monitor oil operations and put in place in advance a plan to minimize environmental damage cannot be overcome easily in retrospect, as we see with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The United States has tremendous technical and financial resources with which to meet environmental disaster, and still we suffer from the ongoing spillage of oil in our coastal waters. How much more then would the Government of Nigeria and its people grapple with how to deal with less dramatic but more frequent oil spills? Even with all our capability, the United States has foreign allies offering help in cleaning up our Gulf oil spills. Where is the international help for the Niger Delta oil spills?

We can decide not to allow oil drilling off our shores because we have the luxury to do so. However, the oil we use comes from somewhere, and that decision on our part merely shifts the burden from us to some other people. As we decide what to do about the Gulf of Mexico spills, let us not forget our responsibility to help address the short-term and long-term impact of oil spills from areas that are the source of our oil. In the case of Nigeria, the United States consumes 40% of Nigeria’s oil output.

The Deepwater Horizon incident should be a reminder that there is often a high price to pay for the gasoline we use, and that can be much higher than the one listed on the gas pump.


The United States is blessed with abundant natural resources, including petroleum, as has recently been emphasized by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. That this nation is able to decide that it will not exploit the petroleum deposits onshore and off coastal areas is made possible by the supplies of oil coming from other countries. Americans are justifiably concerned by the environmental dangers of oil spills, such as the estimated 2.5 million U.S. gallons of oil pumped into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico each day for more than two months now. However, supplying oil always poses some risks, and if Americans don’t take such risks, that means someone else is – for example the residents of Nigeria’s Niger Delta.
The Gulf oil spill is the largest in U.S. history and has engendered tremendous worldwide coverage and international offers of help for an incident that could affect countries far beyond the United States, depending on where the ocean currents carry the oil into international waters. Yet the people of the Niger Delta have lived with smaller, but more frequent, oil spills for many years now.
According to reliable estimates, between 1970 and 2000, there were as many as 7,000 oil spills in the Delta area, and some believe that is a serious underestimation of the number of oil spills that actually took place. There are about 2,000 sites in the Delta that leak oil continuously and are considered major spillage sites. Last year alone, there were 132 oil spills. The annual average is 175 oil spills.
But while British Petroleum (BP) has agreed to pay out at least US$20 billion in damages to Americans, Shell has acknowledged spilling 14,000 tons of crude oil into the Delta last year, and there is no record of any kind of payment to those negatively impacted. Unlike the U.S. government, the Nigerian government’s ability and willingness to set and enforce safety and environmental rules and regulations is highly inadequate. We debate here in the United States whether President Barack Obama and his Administration has acted swiftly enough or overreached his authority in pressing BP to create a compensation fund. The residents of the Niger Delta would be thanking their Maker if their government took such strong action to defend their interests.
The seafood and tourism industries in several Gulf states stand to lose billions in business due to the results from the oil spill. Over the past two months, the media has carried stories of watermen who can no longer earn a living from the seafood from contaminated waters. We see restaurants and hotels nearly empty, as tourists avoid what they believe is a contaminated area. Formerly pristine beaches are empty or littered with tar balls and oil-covered animals. The devastations from oil spills is certainly familiar to residents of the Niger Delta.
In 1983, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation issued a report about the impact of what they saw as negligent operations by oil companies in the Niger Delta:
“We witnessed the slow poisoning of the waters of this country and the destruction of vegetation and agricultural land by oil spills which occur during petroleum operations. But since the inception of the oil industry in Nigeria, more than twenty-five years ago, there has been no concerned and effective effort on the part of the government, let alone the oil operators, to control environmental problems associated with the industry,” the report stated.
The negative impact of oil spills in the Delta includes not only the killing of current marine life, but also the eggs of next season’s sea catch. Oil is stored in coastal soils and released later during floods, damaging the land on which farmers grow crops and on which people live. Rare forms of cancer are seen in the Delta area, believed to be caused by continuous exposure of crude oil. Militancy by groups outraged by uncompensated damage from oil spills has been met by an often violent government response that places residents in the middle of gun battles and subject to reprisals they do not deserve.
In the Niger Delta, as in the Gulf of Mexico, an oil spill prevention and cleanup is the joint responsibility of the oil company involved and the government of the country in which it occurs. Lax or non-existent rules and regulations on oil operations invites problems, as local managers will always look for ways to cut costs, especially when revenues drop due to lower petroleum prices; some authority has to make sure that cost-cutting doesn’t come with increased risk of pollution. Oil companies are corporations with stockholders who expect dividends to be paid if revenue warrants it. If there is no system to require that damages be paid, these companies will be reluctant to offer damage payments on their own. The failure of government to effectively monitor oil operations and put in place in advance a plan to minimize environmental damage cannot be overcome easily in retrospect, as we see with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The United States has tremendous technical and financial resources with which to meet environmental disaster, and still we suffer from the ongoing spillage of oil in our coastal waters. How much more then would the Government of Nigeria and its people grapple with how to deal with less dramatic but more frequent oil spills? Even with all our capability, the United States has foreign allies offering help in cleaning up our Gulf oil spills. Where is the international help for the Niger Delta oil spills?
We can decide not to allow oil drilling off our shores because we have the luxury to do so. However, the oil we use comes from somewhere, and that decision on our part merely shifts the burden from us to some other people. As we decide what to do about the Gulf of Mexico spills, let us not forget our responsibility to help address the short-term and long-term impact of oil spills from areas that are the source of our oil. In the case of Nigeria, the United States consumes 40% of Nigeria’s oil output.
The Deepwater Horizon incident should be a reminder that there is often a high price to pay for the gasoline we use, and that can be much higher than the one listed on the gas pump.

3 comments:

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  2. This is a good piece of writing. So informative and well researched

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