Untold Story: BP-sized Oil Spills Happen All the Time in Nigeria

By Sheldon C. Good 06-04-2010

The BP Oil Spill is the worst oil spill in U.S. history, much worse than Exxon Valdez. Reports say anywhere from 40,000-500,000 barrels of oil a day spew out into the Gulf of Mexico.

But do we really know how bad the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is? No. And we likely won't for years, perhaps generations, to come. Not to belittle the Gulf situation at all, but here's a bit of perspective.

A story that's gotten almost no media coverage is the burgeoning oil spill in the Nigerian village of Otuegwe. As John Vidal, environmental editor for The Observer (London), noted recently, more oil spills out from the Nigerian delta every year than has been lost in the Gulf. Vidal wrote a first-hand account of his trek along the delta:

"The farther we travelled, the more nauseous it became. Soon we were swimming in pools of light Nigerian crude, the best-quality oil in the world. One of the many hundreds of 40-year-old pipelines that crisscross the Niger delta had corroded and spewed oil for several months. Forest and farmland were now covered in a sheen of greasy oil. Drinking wells were polluted and people were distraught."

Vidal went on to explain why the United States should care, and the moral implications of the ongoing tragedy:

"With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports and is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations. Locals blame the oil that pollutes their land and can scarcely believe the contrast with the steps taken by BP and the US government to try to stop the Gulf oil leak and to protect the Louisiana shoreline from pollution."

Ben Ikari, a member of the Ogoni people, put it simply. "If this Gulf accident had happened in Nigeria, neither the government nor the company would have paid much attention," Ikari said. "This kind of spill happens all the time in the delta. The oil companies just ignore it. The lawmakers do not care and people must live with pollution daily. The situation is now worse than it was 30 years ago. Nothing is changing. When I see the efforts that are being made in the U.S. I feel a great sense of sadness at the double standards."

Consider the moral implications here. What can this teach us?

Sheldon C. Good is the media assistant for Sojourners.

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