Oil spills all too familiar to Nigerians
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.”