The Niger Delta: a Cautionary Tale for the United States

Thursday, June 17, 2010


The people who live in the Niger Delta have endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates. The oil pours out nearly every week and swamps once teeming with shrimp and crab, are long since lifeless.

Poorly regulated and maintained aging pipelines belonging to Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil, regularly burst, spewing black crude onto the mangroves and into the creeks for months at a time. Last month, soldiers guarding an Exxon Mobil site beat women who demonstrated against the spills.

“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.

The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster has transfixed a country and president they so admire is a matter of wonder for people who here, among the palm-fringed estuaries in conditions as abject as any in Nigeria. Though their region contributes nearly 80 percent of the government’s revenue, they have hardly benefit from it, and 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. The aquatic life of our people is dying off. There used be shrimp. There are no longer any shrimp.”

With revised estimates that as many as 2.5 million gallons of oil could be spilling into the Gulf of Mexico each day, the Niger Delta has suddenly become a cautionary tale for the United States.

According to a team of experts for the Nigerian government and international and local environmental groups, as many as 546 million gallons of oil spilled into the Niger Delta in the past five decades, or nearly 11 million gallons a year. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 dumped an estimated 10.8 million gallons of oil into the waters off Alaska.

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8 Responses to The Niger Delta: a Cautionary Tale for the United States

  1. Victor Tiffany says:

    We are on a dying planet, and we’re the ones killing it.

  2. R.J. says:

    I’m at the point where I don’t think the Obama administration understands or cares how bad this really is. He’s done a horrible job since day one of this spill, and yet he *still* lets BP handle the mess when they obviously won’t do everything necessary to plug that damn hole.

  3. Joe in Colorado says:

    Thanks for posting this. I’m embarrassed to admit I have never heard of this environmental mess in the African nation of Nigeria until now. It would appear that “Big Oil” has a poor track record all over the globe. Now, the U.S. Gulf states are getting a taste of what developing nations have to deal with regularly.

  4. Pechanga says:

    If this event in the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t ignite the flame of innovation under the west’s butt, leading to new, cleaner, renewable and less destructive energy sources, then I think there is no hope for humanity.

    The world is at a crossroads and if we don’t act now, the USA will become the newest Niger Delta or Lake Baku in Siberia.

    These are terrifying prospects.

  5. Mets Fan says:

    I agree, Pechanga.

    But even as I write this reply, Republican lawmakers are whining about how horrible Obama is, for making BP ante up $20 billion for liability claims.

    These pigfuckers would rather see the world perish than pass comprehensive energy reform.

  6. bradfrmphnx says:

    R.J., are we just going to blame everything on Obama and his administration? This is terrible, albeit enlightening news. However, I don’t understand what Obama can do to these oil companies in a foreign land.

    With respect I think you are wrong that Obama has done nothing, or that he has done a horrible job by allowing BP to do whatever they want to. I don’t see that at all. Stopping the flow is his number one priority at this time.

    The fact is that nobody knows how to do that. Which is reason enough to me not to be drilling in the first place, until we do know what to do. If we learn anything from this experience, let’s hope we learn that.

    If we can’t stand behind our President now, then we are going to be looking at Sarah Palin to be standing behind in 2013. And I for one would rather cut my throat.

  7. retahyajyajav says:

    Obama said too many times in the first weeks after the spill that “BP has the expertise to stop the oil.”

    Well, guess what? Obama was wrong. What BP is doing to throwing spaghetti at the oil well and hoping it sticks and stops the flow of petroleum.

    The sad fact is, BP doesn’t know what the hell it is doing. Neither does this president, or Dr. Stephen Chu or Ken Salazar. If they did, the oil would have stopped flowing by now.

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