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GULF DISASTER: MORE OIL SPILLED HERE EVERY YEAR

By NBF News

British Petroleum has been hit with a $US10 billion lawsuit over an alleged leak of toxic chemicals at its Texas City refinery. Imagine a country where BP's Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil disaster happens every single year, with little or no public outcry, little media coverage, and all but silence from government and the companies involved; then, welcome to Nigeria.

Over the last 50 years, foreign oil companies have spilled over 1.5 million tons of oil here, but there have been no legal steps and convictions against them, and no compensation for spill victims, mostly rural people in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria.

The Niger Delta is now one of the most polluted places in the world. CNN informed us that Nigeria 's Niger Delta is one of the most oil-polluted places on the planet with more than 6,800 recorded oil spills, accounting for anywhere from 9 million to 13 million barrels of oil spilled. This is said to have occurred over the 50 years since oil production began in the Delta. This environmental disaster has never received, and is not receiving; the attention given to the oil-spill catastrophe in the U.S. Gulf coast that occurred only recently.

“The whole world trembled and the oil company concerned sat up to take immediate action when the President of America read the riot act. The anger and frustration felt by Americans in the Gulf was 'anger and frustration' shared by American Presidency, the Legislature and the Judiciary in America . They did not entertain ridiculous spectacles of finger pointing and lame duck excuses from BP.

President Obama said: 'The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn't. Whatever happened that caused the spill, it is pretty clear that the system failed, and it failed badly. And for that, there's enough responsibility to go around. And all parties should be willing to accept it. That includes, by the way, the Federal Government. I will not tolerate more finger-pointing or irresponsibility'.

According to Amnesty International, people living in the Niger Delta have experienced oil spills on par with the Exxon Valdez disaster every year for the last half century. In its June 2009 report, Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty, Amnesty said independent environmental and oil experts estimated between nine million and 13 million of barrels had leaked in the five decades of oil operations. It also quoted U.N. figures of more than 6,800 recorded spills between 1976 and 2001.

In the 1990s, Shell was forced to stop operations in Ogoniland after mass protests against the lack of investment and environmental damage culminated in a military crackdown. The 700,000-square-kilometer Niger Delta is one of the most important wetlands in the world and home to 31 million people — 60 percent of whom, according to the U.N. Development Program, depend on the natural environment for their livelihood.

Chevron, Agip, ExxonMobil are among the other companies operating in the Delta, but Shell is the only company in the region to release regular reports on its operations. And as the oil companies' argument goes: They pay the Nigerian government and it is the government's responsibility to provide investment, security and pressure on private business. In all those areas, the government has notably failed in the poverty-stricken and conflict-racked Niger Delta.

,,,,,The U.S. imports about eight percent of its crude oil needs from Nigeria . That is nearly half of Nigeria's daily oil production and that makes Nigeria the fifth-largest exporter of oil to the United States, and the fact that Nigeria has been going through such 'spill tragedies' for the past 50 years with little or no concern even from the U.S. government goes to show that we can tolerate more finger-pointing or irresponsibility in Niger Delta as an 'oil field that people don't need to live in.”

Why should the largest consumer of Nigerian oil care if the government of Nigeria , including its fourth estate of the realm, does not care to play its parts? President Obama says the battle to stop the Gulf of Mexico spill is “finally close to coming to an end” and that lives had been “turned upside down” because of the spill, but he was heartened by indications that it was being brought under control.

White House energy adviser Carol Browner said a new scientific assessment has found that about three-quarters of the oil has either been captured, burned off, evaporated or broken down chemically. “It was captured. It was skimmed. It was burned. It was contained. Mother Nature did her part,” she said.

And if the US cuts oil productions off its coast because of the BP oil spill, it will put more pressure on places like Nigeria . There will be new oil blocks so that necessary quota for the US energy projects can be met. That means, invariably, increase in oil spills, more gas flares, youth restiveness and conflicts could be on the increase.

On May 1, this year a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline in Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria spilled more than a million gallons into the Delta over a seven day period before the leak was stopped. Local people demonstrated against the company, but were reportedly attacked by security guards. Community leaders are now demanding $1bn in compensation for the illness and loss of livelihood they suffered. Few expect they will succeed. In the meantime, thick balls of tar are being washed up along the coast.

Within days of the Ibeno spill, thousands of barrels of oil were spilled when the nearby Shell Trans Niger pipeline was attacked by militants. A few days after that, a large oil slick was found floating on Lake Adibawa in Bayelsa State and another in Ogoniland. “We are faced with incessant oil spills from rusty pipes, some of which are 40 years old,” said Bonny Otavie, a legislator from Bayelsa State .

This point was supported by Williams Mkpa, a community leader in Ibeno: “Oil companies do not value our lives; they want us to all die. In the past two years, we have experienced 10 oil spills and fishermen can no longer sustain their families. It is not tolerable.”

With 606 oilfields, the Niger Delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports, and yet it is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, is unbelievable and shows no signs of improving. Locals blame the oil that pollute their land and rivers on multinational oil companies and the docility of government to speak out forcefully and authoritatively on their behalf.

They now read the opposite in 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. Nigeria 's agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill that the US and Europe continue to ignore. Must we continue to 'tolerate more finger-pointing or irresponsibility in the Niger Delta?'

Environmental reports put the cost of the environmental damage in Niger Delta in the tens of billions of dollars.

The truth is that oil has never been mopped up from the soil. We have series of spills in the Niger Delta for more than 50 years that have not been cleaned up. The history of inadequacy in fulfilling the primary function of quick containment and tame the spill in its early hours, regularly exhibited by oil companies in Nigeria, point to the fact that enough responsibility is not going around. And all parties are not willing to accept it. That includes, by the way, the host government and the oil companies.

The world will not tolerate more finger-pointing or irresponsibility or a tacit 'yes, we can not'. The international community cannot continue to ignore the problem in the Niger Delta of Nigeria. Oil companies operating in Nigeria must be compelled to undertake and effect proper clean up as soon as spills occur, as they often do, in the Niger Delta as was done in Gulf of Mexico in the US . Oil companies operating in Nigeria must put together, now, an international oil spill response team that should be fully funded by all oil companies and their home governments. That is the proper thing to do.

Engr. (Dr.) F.I. Ogbogoh, a retired Director-General of Federal Fire Service, is an Emergency & Disaster Management Consultant. He wrote from London.