Out of sight, out of mind
Latest reports are that the oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico is the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez spill (11 million gallons) every five days. So, by the time they shut the well down, probably sometime in August, that will have amounted to about 20 Exxon Valdezes.
Meanwhile, in West Africa’s Niger Delta, over the last 50 years, they’ve had the equivalent of 50 Exxon Valdezes. It’s the worst single oil catastrophe in history, and it’s still going on … all the time, every day.
Just a few weeks ago, in the same region, a burst pipe that’s part of a Royal Dutch Shell operation was shut down after two months of belching oil. There was an Exxon Mobil spill in April, and another in May. In 2009, Royal Dutch Shell spilled more than four million gallons of crude oil into the Niger Delta. There are 2,000 ongoing spills there.
The Niger Delta is similar in many ways to the Mississippi Delta, whose great marshlands, home to millions of shrimps and crabs, are the birthing grounds for wading birds of all kinds. And there’s basically no one out there making much effort to clean it up. After all, if it’s not in the news in the U.S. or Europe, no one really cares – except the people and the animals who live there.
In his Green Man Blog , John Vidal writes:
With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40 percent 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.
So, while there’s talk of moratoriums on more drilling around the United States coast, in other parts of the world there are no environmental laws to stop companies creating havoc. And if they can’t drill here, they’ll just go there …
… And whatever they drill, we’ll buy.
On a recent edition of the radio show Your Call, Lisa Margonelli, journalist and author of Oil on the Brain: Adventures from Pump to Pipeline, commented that:
“We drill in places like Chad, and the United States and the World Bank and Exxon kinda made this deal and went in and created environmental laws on the fly. The problem is that it’s fine to have a moratorium on drilling here, but we need to make sure we’re not going abroad to get the oil. Because we still use oil. So we’re now going to these countries that are a little dicey because the big oilfields are basically gone, so we’re going to places that are riskier geologically, riskier politically, riskier in general, financially, and they tend to be places with fewer regulations.”
There are smaller spills going on all the time. On May 25th, two ships collided off the coast of Singapore. One of them, an oil tanker, spilled about 2,000 tons of crude oil into the ocean. And that same week, 5,000 barrels of oil (210,000 gallons) poured out of the trans-Alaska pipeline.
Just a week in the life of the oil addiction business.