Oil spills: the US experience v. the Nigerian experience

The BP oil spill has opened our eyes to things we were far too content to leave in the background for so long. Environmental protections and safeguards were routinely thrown to the wind in the flurry to get corporate profits pumping fast. What you don’t see, doesn’t hurt you, so most of us close our eyes a lot, and it takes something spectacular like a hurricane or an oil spill to open them again to the sort of things going on in the background all the time.

What happens when BP’s unit ruptures and dumps hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean each day (not to mention killing a dozen workers!)?

People scream loudly, BP steps in with promises to compensate, the president organizes a taskforce to review the laws and propose a new round of tighter regulation, people get really concerned about the effects of all this oil on local ecosystems and the businesses (like fisheries) that do business in them.

But what happens when the same thing and worse happens in Nigeria? Just the opposite: no one takes notice, no one is there to check the power of the corporation (Shell oil, most infamously), and those who step up to protest are assassinated by the oil company itself. Here is some analysis by a policy studies think tank:

As the global media draws attention to the effect of the BP oil spill on Louisiana’s commercial fishing industry and the state’s precarious wetlands, Niger Deltans face total yearly spills of up to 14,000 tons,[3] all the while conscious of the huge wealth being derived from their environment with no resulting benefits in the shape of housing, medical facilities or decent roads despite some US$700 billion in revenue.[4] Perhaps most infamously, Shell was also accused in a 1995 US lawsuit of involvement in the assassinations of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and the ‘Ogoni Nine’ at the time of the Abacha military regime,[5] a suit leading to an out-of-court settlement of US$15.5 million but no admission of liability on the company’s part.[6] Compare this to the recent experience of the US’s south, with BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward commenting: ‘We will absolutely be paying for the clean-up operation. There is no doubt about that. It’s our responsibility‚ we accept it fully.’[7] In much the same vein, Deepwater Horizon has prompted US senators’ calls to make oil companies liable for up to US$10 billion for the cost of a spill.[8]

CONTRASTING EXPERIENCES

In light of the immediate reparations available to the US in the wake of the BP spill, the contrast with the Nigerian example seemingly demonstrates the higher value placed on human life and existence in a richer part of the world.

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2 Responses to Oil spills: the US experience v. the Nigerian experience

  1. The Destructionist says:

    In the next four weeks, the Dow Jones Industrial Average will drop at least 300 points upon growing fears of the ongoing economic crisis looming in the United States and abroad as instability in Greece and other European countries suffer the devaluation of the Euro as it tumbles into “no man’s land.”

    BP’s latest attempt to cap the oil pipeline 5,000 feet underwater (a.k.a. “Top Kill”) using robots will fail. They will then come up with a “new plan” out of thin-air in an effort to seal the pipe and to instill confidence in the public. The Obama Administration will finally step in to take control of the operation, adding much needed resources in an effort to assuage the outrage being felt by Americans everywhere over this environmental catastrophe. A team of engineers and scientists will be sent down to the ocean floor, via bathyscaphe, in order to view the damage head-on and to make assessments as to how to repair the damage.

    Is this a future foretold, or just simple deductive reasoning?

    You decide.

  2. Andrea Ford says:

    A good friend of mine in Ghana is a Nigerian from Calabar, right near Port Harcourt and the Niger River Delta where all the oil scandals are taking place. Your point is an excellent one, reiterated one-hundredfold by the stories he’s told me. Most recently, he was describing how the police have no resources like helicopters to combat the rampant violent crime (well, if powerful interests allowed them to), and I was uncomfortably reminded of my small-town CA police using their helicopter to break up underage drinking parties… Yes, higher value is placed on human life and existence in the richer parts of the world.

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