Large oil spills are old news in the Niger Delta  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Age has an article on oil spills in Nigeria - Large oil spills are old news in the Niger Delta.

BIG oil spills are no longer news in the Niger Delta, where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface. This once-verdant area has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates. The oil pours out nearly every week, and some swamps are lifeless.

Perhaps no place on earth has been as battered by oil, experts say, leaving residents here astonished at the non-stop attention paid to the gusher half a world away in the Gulf of Mexico. It was only a few weeks ago, they say, that a burst pipe, belonging to Shell, was finally shut after flowing for two months. Now nothing living moves in a black-and-brown world once teeming with shrimp and crab.

Not far away, there is still black crude on Gio Creek from an April spill, and just across the state line in Akwa Ibom the fishermen curse their oil-blackened nets, doubly useless in a barren sea buffeted by a spill from an offshore Exxon Mobil pipe in May that lasted for weeks.

The oil spews from rusted and ageing pipes, unchecked by what analysts say is ineffectual or collusive regulation, and abetted by deficient maintenance and sabotage. In the face of this black tide is an infrequent protest - soldiers guarding an Exxon Mobil facility beat women who were demonstrating last month, according to witnesses - but mostly resentful resignation.

Small children swim in the polluted estuary here, fishermen take their skiffs out ever further - ''There's nothing we can catch here,'' said Pius Doron, perched anxiously over his boat - and market women trudge through oily streams.

''There is Shell oil on my body,'' said Hannah Baage, emerging from Gio Creek with a machete to cut the cassava stalks balanced on her head.

That the Gulf of Mexico disaster has transfixed a country and president they so admire is a matter of wonder for people here, living among the palm-fringed estuaries in conditions as abject as any in Nigeria, according to the United Nations. Although their region contributes nearly 80 per cent of the government's revenue, they have hardly benefited from it; life expectancy is the lowest in Nigeria.

''President Obama is worried about that one,'' Claytus Kanyie, a local official, said of the Gulf spill, standing among dead mangroves in the soft oily muck outside Bodo. ''Nobody is worried about this one.''

In the distance, smoke rose from what Mr Kanyie and environmental activists said was an illegal refining business run by local oil thieves and protected, they said, by Nigerian security forces.

The Niger Delta has suddenly become a cautionary tale for the US. As many as 546 million gallons of oil spilled into the Niger Delta over the past five decades, or nearly 11 million gallons a year, a team of experts for the Nigerian government and international and local environmental groups concluded in a 2006 report. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 dumped an estimated 10.8 million gallons of oil into the waters off Alaska.

The spills here are all the more devastating because this ecologically sensitive wetland region, the source of 10 per cent of US oil imports, has most of Africa's mangroves and, like the Louisiana coast, has fed the interior for generations with its abundance of fish and crops.


In the interest of accuracy, I would like to point out some factual errors contained in your blog with reference to ExxonMobil's operations in Nigeria. While it is our goal to eliminate all spills, there was a pipeline leak on May 1, but it was more than 20 kilometers offshore from the Qua Iboe Terminal where oil production from our joint venture is gathered. We immediately found the source of the leak and isolated and depressurized the pipeline the same day. The spill volume was about 200 barrels of oil. While regrettable, the spill did not "last for weeks" as you state

3. When the leak was detected, we informed local state and federal authorities immediately. This led to some peaceful local demonstrations. We investigated a local media report about an alleged beating of a woman however community leaders were unable to find or identify her and a television station at the protest had no record of the alleged incident.

In Nigeria, our affiliate Mobil Producing Nigeria maintains constructive engagement with the surrounding communities and their leaders. We are in no way dismissive of concerns and maintain dialogue to see that any concerns raised are addressed. We recognize that there are challenges in the area and go to great lengths to be a responsible corporate citizen and keep our employees, contractors and neighbors safe.
Karen Matusic

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