The other oil spill

The Deepwater Horizon spill has continued to worsen - the latest estimates of leak volume have doubled (again), BP's reputation is plummeting (as is its market value), the Obama administration appears largely powerless and increasingly blamed, and U.S. consumers and taxpayers appear to be the major losers in the long term. But as the Guardian pointed out, Nigeria's agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill - and it has been going on for decades.
One report, compiled by WWF UK, the World Conservation Union and representatives from the Nigerian federal government and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, calculated in 2006 that up to 1.5m tons of oil – 50 times the pollution unleashed in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Alaska – has been spilled in the delta over the past half century. Last year Amnesty calculated that the equivalent of at least 9m barrels of oil was spilled and accused the oil companies of a human rights outrage.
That is a wide range of estimates - at 7 barrels per ton, Amnesty's estimate for last year is almost equivalent to the other estimate for the past century. But even if we take the former estimate, it would take the Deepwater Horizon well almost a year flowing at the new estimated 30,000 bbl/day rate to equal the amount of oil leaked into the Niger Delta over time - and look at the horrific environmental and economic consequences after only a month.

The problem with Nigeria, of course, is the security challenges atop the technical ones.
Last month Shell admitted to spilling 14,000 tonnes of oil in 2009. The majority, said the company, was lost through two incidents – one in which the company claims that thieves damaged a wellhead at its Odidi field and another where militants bombed the Trans Escravos pipeline.
I don't have any answers - it is such a complicated situation that it is hard to know the best way to intervene, even if the political will could be summoned. But maybe one tiny silver lining of the Gulf disaster is that Americans will now appreciate more vividly the consequences that Nigeria has faced for so long - I know I do.

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