Oil spills all too fa­mil­iar to Nige­ri­ans

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION -

IWUO-OKPOM, Nige­ria — The brown spots run like a trail of blood down the de­serted coast­line near this fish­ing vil­lage. Just un­der­neath a hand­ful of sand lies spilled oil.

Oil pow­ers this West African nation’s econ­omy but kills its south­ern shores. Vil­lagers say spilled oil reg­u­larly washes ashore, ru­in­ing their fish­ing nets and mea­ger liveli­hoods.

Though the world is trans­fixed by the BP dis­as­ter in the Gulf of Mex­ico, oil spills have be­come a part of ev­ery­day life dur­ing the 50 years that for­eign firms have been pump­ing out Nige­ria’s eas­ily re­fined fuel. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists es­ti­mate as much as 550 mil­lion gal­lons of oil have poured into the Niger River Delta dur­ing that time, at a rate roughly com­pa­ra­ble to one Exxon Valdez dis­as­ter per year.

Ac­cord­ing to govern­ment fig­ures, Nige­ria suf­fered more than 6,800 oil spills from 1976 through 2001, los­ing about 130 mil­lion gal­lons.

Un­der the worst-case sce­nario, the BP spill is send­ing 2.5 mil­lion gal­lons a day into the Gulf of Mex­ico where the off­shore rig Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon ex­ploded April 20.

And en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say the Nige­rian govern­ment fig­ures don’t in­clude oil that is lost in attacks by mil­i­tants, who de­mand a big­ger share of the prof­its for the delta re­gion, and in ar­eas too re­mote or dan­ger­ous to en­ter.

In Ogo­ni­land, a swampy, oil-rich por­tion of the delta, vil­lagers re­belled and drove out the oil com­pa­nies in the 1990s. But Shell pipe­lines still run through­out the area, and a re­cent Shell en­vi­ron­men­tal re­port said that al­most all the spills from its lines last year — more than 4 mil­lion gal­lons — re­sulted from sab­o­tage.

As the tide ebbs at Bodo City, a town in Ogo­ni­land, ex­posed man­grove roots drip black from spilled crude oil. There are no birds in the sky or fish in the creeks.

“They died,” said Mike Vipene, a youth leader in Bodo City. “They won’t be com­ing back.”

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