Oil Pollution in the Niger Delta
This page covers pollution from oil spils in the Niger Delta. For information about pollution from gas flaring in the Niger Delta go here.
Oil Spills in the Niger Delta
When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska in March 1989, 257,000 barrels of oil were spilt and massive public outcry swept through America.
In the Niger Delta, between 1976 and 1998, over 2.5 million barrels of oil have been spilt into the Delta environment; and that is only spills officially recorded by the Department of Petroleum Resources.
Leaking pipelines, running through villages, farms, creeks and rivers in the Niger Delta, are a major source of pollution, sickness and economic ruin for the people of the Niger Delta. Farmland polluted by oil is rarely rehabilitated, destroying livelihoods. Fish contaminated by oil cause sickness among the people and further economic ruin as fish stocks decline.
The spillages are a regular feature of life in the Delta. They are rarely dealt with promptly. In some cases, minor leaks are left for months, resulting in major pollution.
Why do spills occur?
Spills are caused by a multitude of factors in the Niger Delta. Poorly maintained infrastructure fails under high pressure. Accidents occur and pipelines running overground get ruptured. The burgeoning trade in stolen oil means that local people tap into lines and wells damaging them or leaving them leaking. Sabotage of pipes is common, often by local people hoping to get cash compensation.
Where the spills are due to failing equipment, the oil companies are clearly responsible. But where they are blamed on sabotage, the companies and government blame local people and criminal gangs.
However, who is really responsible for a situation in which people will rupture pipes on purpose? Individual incidents can not be separated from the overall malaise in the Niger Delta. The people are desperately poor and they do desperate things.
Whether caused by industry neglect or otherwise, the clean up rates are appalling and more and more land in the Delta is being destroyed.
Exxon claims to have spent over US$2.1billion cleaning up the Exxon Valdez oil spill. There is no clean up operation in the Niger Delta worth mentioning. No one knows exactly how much oil has been spilt, how much land is polluted, how many people are affected, what species are threatened, what the economic or environmental costs have been.