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One of the worst oil spills in history you've never heard of just happened.
May 30, 2010 9:23 AM   Subscribe

On May 10th, 2010 ExxonMobile had an oil spill in Nigeria Delta. It is somewhere around the 16th worst oil spill in [wikipedia reported] world history, at 95,000 tonnes (696,350 barrels or 214,475,800 gallons). Nigeria's agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill. The US and Europe ignore it. Oil spills are a regular occurrence in Nigeria, about 300 a year, it is estimated over the past 50 years about 1.5 million tons have been dumped in the Delta, equivalent to the Gulf War oil spill (the largest spill on record) or 50+ Exxon Valdez.

From the BBC link:
Worse may be to come. One industry insider, who asked not to be named, said: "Major spills are likely to increase in the coming years as the industry strives to extract oil from increasingly remote and difficult terrains. Future supplies will be offshore, deeper and harder to work. When things go wrong, it will be harder to respond."

Judith Kimerling, a professor of law and policy at the City University of New York and author of Amazon Crude, a book about oil development in Ecuador, said: "Spills, leaks and deliberate discharges are happening in oilfields all over the world and very few people seem to care."
posted by stbalbach (50 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's ExxonMobil, btw.

I get the feeling that a lot of African countries will never become developed, because the developed nations will have already completely salted their fields/taken their resources.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:30 AM on May 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


Eh, big surprise there. It's not as if the developed world has never really cared about the plight of the world's poor.

Moral of the story: If you're a big multinational, you can perpetrate horrifying atrocities on hapless victims - just make sure it's somewhere in Africa.
posted by WalterMitty at 9:30 AM on May 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


I think this is an excellent argument for working to fix the corruption within the Nigerian government. But, I'm not convinced it works to have outsiders come into a country to try to fix it.
posted by Houstonian at 9:33 AM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


One thing that the Guardian article touches on only lightly is that the ethnic groups living in the Delta are minorities in Nigeria. The central government just wants to extract as much oil as possible, as cheap as they can, they really do not care about the people living there. This also lets the MNCs conveniently blame the government for everything and claim that they "can't interfere in domestic politics"
posted by atrazine at 9:34 AM on May 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm not surprised at all that North American media has pretty much ignored this outright, but I am surprised that Shell hasn't taken steps to try to minimize the product their losing, and that the Nigerian government isn't making a big deal out of this.

It seems counter intuitive that a multinational would be okay with losing money, and that the government wouldn't jump all over the chance to get money from said company.
posted by FuzzyLumpkins at 9:38 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Shell, which works in partnership with the Nigerian government in the delta, says that 98% of all its oil spills are caused by vandalism, theft or sabotage by militants and only a minimal amount by deteriorating infrastructure.

These claims are hotly disputed by communities and environmental watchdog groups. They mostly blame the companies' vast network of rusting pipes and storage tanks, corroding pipelines, semi-derelict pumping stations and old wellheads, as well as tankers and vessels cleaning out tanks.
posted by stbalbach at 9:39 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


oh, alright then, really need to stop forming my opinions based on a light skim of the article.
posted by FuzzyLumpkins at 9:42 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


This sort of thing is why I'm as uncomfortable with the notion that we should avoid drilling off-shore of the US (because of possible environmental damage) as I am with the inane "Drill Here, Drill Now" crap. It makes it sound like an environmental disaster in some far-off locale is okay but one in our own back yard isn't. We (humanity) need to do a better job and start acting like adults.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:52 AM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


We (humanity) need to do a better job and start acting like adults.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 12:52 PM


Epony-prophetic.
posted by GrammarMoses at 10:13 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


We (humanity) need to do a better job and start acting like adults.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 12:52 PM

Epony-prophetic.
posted by GrammarMoses at 10:13 AM on May 30 [+] [!]

eponicyclical
posted by KingoftheWhales at 10:36 AM on May 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


I hope this doesn't affect the money I'm helping that guy move out of there!
posted by HTuttle at 10:46 AM on May 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Underlying lesson: our energy, no matter where it comes from, has costs. The cheaper or easier the energy source, the more likely its costs are exerted on the poor, whether they're coal miners in West Virginia or farmers in Nigeria. We don't have alternative energy because its (incredibly minor) costs are most often exerted on the rich.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:48 AM on May 30, 2010 [12 favorites]


Epony-prophetic.
posted by GrammarMoses at 10:13 AM on May 30 [+] [!]


eponybiblical
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 10:52 AM on May 30, 2010


We don't have alternative energy because its (incredibly minor) costs are most often exerted on the rich.

Thus the need for another spat of class warfare, maybe. Not that that ever really worked out well in the end either.
posted by sundri at 11:13 AM on May 30, 2010


.
posted by limeonaire at 11:14 AM on May 30, 2010


Shell contributes to the agony in the Delta as well.
posted by HumanComplex at 11:25 AM on May 30, 2010


Eh, big surprise there. It's not as if the developed world has never really cared about the plight of the world's poor.

Neither do most people in Nigeria. If you bother to learn much of anything about the situation in Nigeria, you'd know most of the damage is being inflicted on minority communities in Nigeria. The governments of the day (and the people voting for them) is more that happy to fuck over a few ethnic minorities to make more money.
posted by rodgerd at 11:38 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


And it's not just oil spills in Nigeria.
posted by ctmf at 11:39 AM on May 30, 2010


One of the reasons it's covered so extensively and exclusively is that it's the largest environmental disaster ever in the United States' history.
posted by leafxor at 11:43 AM on May 30, 2010


It seems counter intuitive that a multinational would be okay with losing money, and that the government wouldn't jump all over the chance to get money from said company.

I have no evidence for this whatsoever but I'm pretty certain that if the multinational was in fact losing money overall then this level of not-giving-a-fuck-about-the-oil-spills would NOT be happening. Equally if individual members of the Nigerian government were losing money then again, this would NOT be happening.
posted by jontyjago at 11:50 AM on May 30, 2010


I don't really see that it dwarfs the Gulf spill, not unless you go by minimum estimates - which are inevitably trying to save face. Considering the max estimates of the Nigeria spill are more than 5x less than the Gulf spill, and considering the Gulf spill hasn't stopped, I'd say it's quite a bit less dramatic.

Still, that's purely from a relativist standpoint. Objectively speaking, this is absolutely cata-fucking-strophic.
posted by tybeet at 11:56 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


it's the largest environmental disaster ever in the United States' history.

At a stroke, yes certainly, but I wonder how it compares in terms of total environmental destruction to the accumulated effects of mountaintop removal mining? Maybe the moral for energy corporations is if you're going to fuck shit up in a big way, just don't do it all at once.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:57 AM on May 30, 2010 [11 favorites]


Nigeria's rulers are kleptocrats. The oil multinationals they deal with know that. Both sides view Nigeria and Nigerians as a throw-away state and people. Big Oil cannot possibly be losing money, no matter how big the spills and the millions in bribes, because they still operate there. When they start losing, they will move on. The Kleptos meanwhile eat cake offered to them from the warm hands of the Swiss, US, French, Hong Kong, Chinese, Canadian banks where their hundreds of millions are smilingly received. A horror on a staggeringly human scale for Nigerians and the next victims.
posted by drogien at 12:58 PM on May 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


it's the largest environmental disaster ever in the United States' history.

It's only a disaster because it happened over a short period of time.
posted by doublehappy at 2:09 PM on May 30, 2010


WE THOUGHT IT WAS OIL, BUT IT WAS BLOOD

The other day
We danced on the street
Joy in our hearts
We thought we were free
Three young folks fell to our right
Countless more fell to our left
Looking up,
Far from the crowd
We beheld
Red hot guns

We thought it was oil
But it was blood

We thought it was oil
But this was blood

Heart jumping
Into our mouths
Floating on
Emotions dry wells
We leapt with fury
Knowing it was't funny
Then we beheld
Bright red pools

We thought it was oil
But it was blood

We thought it was oil
But this was blood

Tears don't flow
When you are scarred
First it was the Ogoni
Today it is Ijaws
Who will be slain this next day?
We see open mouths
But we hear no screams
Standing in a pool
Up to our knees

We thought it was oil
But it was blood

We thought it was oil
But this was blood

Dried tear bags
Polluted streams
Things are real
Only when found in dreams
We see their Shells
Behind military shields
Evil, horrible evil gallows called oilrigs
Drilling our souls

We thought it was oil
But it was blood

We thought it was oil
But this was blood

The heavens are open
Above our head
Toasted dreams in flared
And scrambled sky
A million black holes
In a burnt sky
But we know our dreams
Won't burst like crude pipes

We thought it was oil
But this was blood

We thought it was oil
But this was blood

This we tell you
They may kill all
But the blood will speak
They may gain all
But the soil will RISE
We may die but stay alive
Placed on the slab
Slaughtered by the day
We are the living
Long sacrificed

We thought it was oil
But it was blood

We thought it was oil
But this was blood

---Nnimmo Bassey
posted by anansi at 2:37 PM on May 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


it's the largest environmental disaster ever in the United States' history.

I'd be curious to know how much worse for the environment the U.S. oil spill is than the amount of pollutants the country expels every day.
posted by FuzzyLumpkins at 2:37 PM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd be curious to know how much worse for the environment the U.S. oil spill is than the amount of pollutants the country expels every day.

I'll say. A "dead zone" has already existed in the Gulf of Mexico for decades due to nitrate pollution from upriver fertilizer. And the hundreds of chemicals we consume or inhale every day that have not been examined for their effect on our health individually (let alone in combination, as has been done for many pharmaceuticals) is mind-boggling. I am not the first to wonder how much of this multi-level contamination of the human body has lead to the astronomical increase of diseases such as cancer over the last half-century or so.
posted by kozad at 2:56 PM on May 30, 2010


You can blame the corporations, you can blame the government, or you can blame the Western media. Or some combination. Blaming a government of poor black people sounds too much like racism or classism for a lot of us to be comfortable with (regardless of how much blame actually lies there). Blaming Western media makes it sound like we're supposed to be the ones solving these problems, as though we should swoop in and take over. This sounds imperialist. That leaves the corporations as the most politically-correct place to put blame. And, indeed, these companies could prevent almost all of these disasters if they had some motivation to do so. But is blaming the company going to change anything?

I will grant you that if our media (somehow) exhaustively covered every bad thing in the whole world that could be somehow linked back to a corporation, and if a large majority of Americans boycotted the companies that did those things, things might get somewhat better. But companies aren't designed to work this way. They're designed to profit off of others: to find some way to victimize, even if they have to come up with all kinds of tricks to disguise that victimization. They're smart, they're experts in their own field, and they can do this full-time. We the people are average, not experts in every field, our time is limited, and we are sometimes easy misled. The media has to find a way to bring things down to our level, which isn't guaranteed to be possible, has very limited time, and has no motivation to do anything other than tell us stories we find interesting. Is this really a recipe for robust enforcement of our values on these companies? And do we really want to enforce our own culture-specific values on global corporations?

Contrast this with the Nigerian government: its values and concerns are (ideally) local, it can hire full-time experts in a field to enforce rules, and its powers are more direct, lasting, and substantial than any little American flash-in-the-pan boycott. The government has serious power. They control valuable resources that everyone wants. They can easily say "You know what, ExxonMobil? You're banned from our country for life. Bye. Let that be a lesson to the rest of you." This costs the government virtually nothing (ideally) since other companies will happily step in, but makes a strong statement. I conclude that the perfect solution is for governments to get involved and solve these problems themselves through sane regulation and super-aggressive, no-fear-of-overreacting-because-there-are-always-more-companies enforcement.

So my question to you wise and worldly people here on the blue is not "What is wrong with ExxonMobil?" or "What is wrong with the media?" but rather, "What is wrong with the Nigerian government and is there any way that I can help?" I'm not suggesting that we swoop in and tell them how to do their jobs, I'm asking if there is anything we can do that would be more helpful and welcomed than intrusive and despised. I'm guessing colonialism played a role in screwing up their government in the first place, so it seems not unreasonable to think that we might try and at least help undo that damage.

Just my $0.02.
posted by Xezlec at 3:01 PM on May 30, 2010


@Xezlec No offense, but while your post was articulate, it's also quite literally the most milquetoast thing I've ever laid eyes on. You accept corporations as a necessary evil and even say that we shouldn't impose our values on them, while passing the buck to the government of a failed state, all the while offering no solution whatsoever.
posted by speedgraphic at 3:30 PM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


What BBC link?

Also, from reading the links and any others I was able to find in short order, I see that the estimates of the pipeline spill size (and the date: was it May 1, May 10 or May 12?) are based on one unidentified source, from which the numbers are variously 100 000 tonnes or "more than a million gallons" (100000 tonnes ~ 600000 barrels ~ 2.5 million gallons). Obviously the point of the Guardian article is that poor reporting and scrutiny exarcerbates the situation in the Niger delta, but if anyone can dig up any further information (particularly if not a broken telephone rehash of the original anonymous estimate), please post these.

Ugh. Lots of bad news these days...
posted by bumpkin at 3:43 PM on May 30, 2010


I confess that recently I have not been paying enough attention to independent media sources as I should have been. But this completely flew under my radar.

My (poor) understanding of African geography is that the ecological and economical significance of this area is very similar to the Louisiana delta, in a relative sense. I am probably wrong about this, and I admit I have not looked at any of the links yet except to make a perfunctory glance.

I am feeling like a bad human being at this point, so thank you for pointing this out.
posted by chemoboy at 4:12 PM on May 30, 2010


What I don't understand is isn't all this oil leaking a tremendous waste? What percentage is being leaked? Doesn't this stuff cost money?
posted by captaincrouton at 4:36 PM on May 30, 2010


But companies aren't designed to work this way. They're designed to profit off of others: to find some way to victimize, even if they have to come up with all kinds of tricks to disguise that victimization.

This is the part that needs fixing.
posted by mek at 4:49 PM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mutant spent several years working in Nigeria; I'd love for him to give his insider's view on how Nigeria's political corruption and the influence of multinational oil companies have affected the country.
posted by armage at 7:05 PM on May 30, 2010


PRO: Slim rays of hope are breaking through. Nigeria's new president, Goodluck Jonathan, has pledged to fight corruption and make peace in the Niger Delta a priority...[There is] a program in which thousands of former rebels put down their arms last year in exchange for promises of clemency, cash and employment. The initiative has bred a state of relative calm in the area.

CON:...Concerned onlookers also worry that Big Oil has a big ally in Nigeria's new oil minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke. The daughter of a Shell employee, she spent close to 15 years working for the company's Nigerian joint venture.
posted by surewouldoutlaw at 7:29 PM on May 30, 2010


The important part of the story in Nigeria is not the size of the most recent spill. It is the fact that the recent spill is not at all out of the ordinary, and several of that size can be expected per year in the region.
posted by Nothing at 7:30 PM on May 30, 2010


I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:21 PM on May 30, 2010


The governments of the day (and the people voting for them) is more that happy to fuck over a few ethnic minorities to make more money.

Goodluck Jonathan is from an ethnic minority, one of the Deltan minorities infact, so many people are hopeful he will promote justice in the Delta.

People are hopeful about that because Nigerian politicians are known for their tribalism.

Who do you think "the people voting for them" are? No one voted for Goodluck (he was put into power because his predecessor died) and no one can be sure who voted for Yar Adua. People don't go out on election days, the streets are deserted and you often hear shots in the air. Polling stations are seen as dangerous places. Maybe this will change in the 2011 elections as Goodluck has made some serious changes by firing some of the better known corrupt officials. Many people think Goodluck might be assassinated for what he has done before the elections next year.

When Nigerians say "the Nigerian government is corrupt" they are not only talking about the "elected" officials, they are also talking about the indigenous leaders - the chiefs and kings. These are the people who have the real power to give access to their land, not the President, Governors or Senators.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 12:52 AM on May 31, 2010


Offloading the real costs of capitalism on those without money or voices is what capitalism is all about. When the working classes learned to fight back in the Western democracies, it just meant that the externalization had to externalize a little farther away.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:03 AM on May 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


What I don't understand is isn't all this oil leaking a tremendous waste? What percentage is being leaked?

Even assuming the worst estimates of 200 thousand barrels/day for the DWH spill, it's a drop in the bucket compared to the daily world consumption of about 80 million barrels. We use a lot of the stuff.
posted by Bangaioh at 2:55 AM on May 31, 2010


Excellent find and excellent point. The shit's been hitting the fan in Nigeria for decades and, well hey, it isn't US, right?

Except that it is. And so is Deep Whore-Is-On. And wow, look at how cozy MMS has been with the earl folks for years, and years, and years...

The country is run by fat thieving incompetents.
posted by Twang at 4:50 AM on May 31, 2010


Re the nuclear option: Suppose that the nuke were to ignite all that methane and blow the whole freaking oil reservoir wide open creating thousands of holes like that one there.

Yeah, the Soviets did it!!! They got a set!!
WHERE IS THE SOVIET UNION? WANNA GO THERE?

"Fer crissakes, Jeebus, look what happened there!"
"Well yeah, who'da thought?"
"Hey, scratch my ass, willya?"
posted by Twang at 4:55 AM on May 31, 2010


No offense, but while your post was articulate, it's also quite literally the most milquetoast thing I've ever laid eyes on. You accept corporations as a necessary evil

Not sure where you got that. I was just saying I think it's quixotic to think you're going to make corporations "truly care" about people.

and even say that we shouldn't impose our values on them,

Given that "our values" in the US as a whole generally does not mean liberal values, I stand by that statement. For example, if we really did have some kind of social control over global corporations operating in foreign countries, do you think the average American would want them to continue to operate in Muslim countries?

while passing the buck to the government of a failed state,

No, the central point of my comment was to ask the question "What can I do to help?" I just don't happen to think that yelling at corporations, the media, brick walls, etc. is helping.

all the while offering no solution whatsoever.

You offered no solution either. I think my comment offered more than yours. Seeing as how the only reason you could find to comment was to criticize me, without showing the courage to go out on a limb and attempt to offer some insight into the problem yourself, offense taken.
posted by Xezlec at 7:48 AM on May 31, 2010


But companies aren't designed to work this way. They're designed to profit off of others: to find some way to victimize, even if they have to come up with all kinds of tricks to disguise that victimization.

This is the part that needs fixing.


So.... communism? Or what? What's your idea for how this can be avoided? And you folks don't think Nigeria's government needs fixing at all? For real? I guess what I'm trying to say is that I cannot picture any positive scenario where "well-behaved corporations" are somehow the replacement for a failed government.
posted by Xezlec at 7:53 AM on May 31, 2010


And one more thing... the purpose of this thread seems to be just to vent and make sarcastic jabs at certain corporations and "the establishment" in general. I don't know what this is intended to accomplish other than to show what smart and liberal and sympathetic people we all are and check the box indicating our political group identity. So, fine. You want me to offer a solution? Here's one: how about instead of just complaining about things, we start trying to fix them? If everyone who came on this thread to join in the whining donated to some relevant group advocating for change in Nigeria, some good might actually be done. But I don't even know which one is the right one to donate to. I would like to discuss that. Discussing that requires discussing the issues and which solution is most likely to have some effect. Milquetoast or not, that's how you get shit done.
posted by Xezlec at 8:24 AM on May 31, 2010


..and cut back on oil/energy use.
posted by stbalbach at 9:30 AM on May 31, 2010


"well-behaved corporations" are somehow the replacement for a failed government.

Corporations should be well-behaved with or without government. Consumers should hold them accountable in the marketplace. That's the point of posts like this, to make consumers aware of ill-behaved corporate behavior. The problem ultimately is most people don't care. Unless it's BP in the Gulf of Mexico. But crapping all over Nigeria so we can have cheap gasoline in America, well, most people turn a blind eye, blame it on someone else. The problem is us, the consumer.
posted by stbalbach at 9:36 AM on May 31, 2010


Fifteen years ago, Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged for his work against another multinational petroleum company.

I can't say I'm looking forward to seeing what the Ogoni are dealing with in another fifteen years.
posted by dogrose at 9:51 PM on May 31, 2010


kaibutsu wrote When the working classes learned to fight back in the Western democracies

Fortunately we no longer need to worry about that. Fighting back against the wealthy when they try to screw you over is now called "Class Warfare" and the FOX watching masses have been taught to believe that it is a thing worse than pedophilia or murder.

It should go without saying that when the upper classes plunder the lower classes this is emphatically not "Class Warfare".
posted by sotonohito at 9:57 AM on June 1, 2010


it's the largest environmental disaster ever in the United States' history.

Unless the official numbers about nuclear-test fallout in the 1960s are overly optimistic.

Unless you count the fallout from the only known US reactor in space - plutonium fallout which the EPA said exceeded that of all the tests put together. Which the newspapers said nothing about.

Unless you count the coming of Europeans to North America.
posted by Twang at 7:23 AM on June 8, 2010


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