Outrage We Should Have Had

>> Thursday, June 17, 2010

Right now, there's a good bit of vitriole out there over the ecological catastrophe currently in work due to oil company negligence and lax regulation. But, I read a story today that boiled my blood, not because it means the spill in the Gulf is any less tragic and horrific, but because this is going on elsewhere in the world and we're either don't know or don't care.

According to this article in the New York Times, oil machinery, pipelines and wells (run largely by Shell) in Nigeria have been the cause of as much as 546 million barrels of oils spilled over the past fifty years in the delta region of Nigeria, which once served as the source of food for most of the country. That's ~50 Exxon Valdez spills, effectively one a year for the last five decades.

Water is contaminated. Fish and shellfish, crops and wildlife which supplied much of the country, are gone, far far out to sea or potentially contaminated. Corroded pipes, defunct wells, sabotage, oil thieves, vandals, all have contributed and it appears that everyone's pointing fingers at everyone else as responsible. But the oil, which supplies 80% of Nigeria's revenue, is not helping the natives that live with the fallout. They have some of the lowest life expectancies in the nation.

Now, I admit I have a pet peeve, the one where people get all caught up about a "local" (i.e. US) tragedy but shrug off horrors that happen to other people. I got hot under the collar when Hurricane Mitch was hardly noted in passing, even though it was the deadliest Atlantic hurricane in nearly a hundred years (and far deadlier than Hurricane Katrina, which doesn't even make the top 25). And it torques me that people who talk about the worst storms ever don't even note some of the horrific deadly typhoons that have devastated the Far East and Asia. The Bhola Cyclone that hit in 1970 killed between 300,000 and 500,000 people.

So, I don't think it's less tragic that Americans are facing ruin and the ecosystem is being ruined in the gulf than it is that people with little/nothing have less because of oil spills largely ignored in Nigeria. But I don't think it's more either. Clearly, holding our oil companies responsible for the damage they cause is long overdue, and not just off our own coast.

This shouldn't just outrage me.


  • Relax Max

    Do something positive about oil comapnies, then: stop driving your car.

    Why is it abnormal to be concerned more about what happens where one lives than on the other side of the world? There are tragedies all over the world. Don't be pissed off because we don't give equal press to Nigeria.

    Katrina was a landmark catastrophe that affected more lives in a more visible manner. Mitch hit when we were already shell-shocked from Katrina. But Mitch affected Texas more. I see. Mitch was covered. Mitch was bad. Nigeria was bad. BP is bad. How silly is it to rate badness and bemoan unequal coverage of badness. Let's stop using oil. Mother Nature, I don't know what we can do about. Cover it better on the news, I guess.

  • Relax Max

    And start reading the Washington Post and start using the Times for your birdcage.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Hurricane Ike hit Texas, Max, not Mitch. I have never once tried to compare the impact of Ike to Katrina (though one could, but that's another story). Mitch hit in 1998, long before Katrina, and you couldn't get information on it four days afterwards because no one here was paying attention to it, even after the death toll passed 10,000. (Next time, I suggest taking a minute to look up the hurricane, Max.

    Mitch hit the Yucatan peninsula, parked itself, and dropped tons of rain, causing landslides that wiped whole villages off the map.

    We're just across the Gulf from them and could have done far more with humanitarian aid. If only someone knew about it. I had to look to Asian and European new sources to find out anything about it after the first four days because the US just ignored it.

    Our indifference likely cost lives. And that shames me.

    Here, the story's the same except we could give other oil company's to the same scrutiny BP is going through and work to demand that companies working in poor and less developed areas (as well as just off our own coasts) be responsible for what they do to that environment, especially companies that count as "American" companies.

    Jeez, Max, what kind of person shrugs away anyone's suffering, especially if he can do something about it, even if it's only to bring it more visibility? No one needs to give the people suffering in the gulf any visibility, but had you heard anything about this long term defilement of another country, at least partly at an American company's hands? Don't you think that's pertinent?

    And, since you watch Fox News (rolls eyes), I don't have any guilt about reading the NYT. Seriously.

  • Roy

    Steph, there are some of us who have been following the Nigeria debacle for decades. We get a lot of Nigerian exiles here in southeastern New England, most of them former students at the Massachusetts Maritime Institute and their extended families, so I've been seeing this for quite a while. Getting the story out to the general public isn't so easy; it's not the individual interest that's lacking, it's the coverage in the media. What really needs to be done is finding some way into threatening the major news outlets into changing their ways - stop providing entertainment and get back to actually covering news.

    And Max, why in the world would I waste time reading a newspaper owned by Korean Clown King Sun Myung Moon and his army of marching robots? Be serious!

  • Project Savior

    As far as the horrors within the oil industry not getting press is pretty much normal.
    The oil companies treat their non-executive workers in a manner that would put the robber barons of the industrial age to shame and they have less concern for the locals.
    Until a disaster of the scale of the gulf comes along the little spills that add up, just get swept under the rug put down as the cost of our oil addicted society.

  • The Mother

    I have a friend who hails from Nigeria, and whose husband still attempts to do business there. It's an honest man's nightmare and a dishonest man's dream. Corruption and bribery are the modes of commerce. It is hardly surprising that they have disastrous oil problems, with no regulation, no oversight, and people bribed to look the other way.

    Not that that excuses the greedy oil companies (Shell, you say?) from taking advantage of the laxity of the system. Appalling.

    Give folks an inch, and they'll take a mile. It came out a day ago that BP's tankers were licensed in Malaysia, because they didn't have to pass the rigorous inspections req'd to be registered anywhere else.

    I would love to see ethical accountability, but I have no idea how to legislate that.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Roy, that's one reason I'm writing this, though, of course, the NYT exposure is much more powerful. Every little bit. I've read many commentaries and editorials about how owners of BP in Great Britain should take responsibility for what they've done here. Well, that applies to us as well. The profit motive for oil is fed by our addiction to it (Max is right there), but we need to hold those companies based here, profiting here, responsible for what what damage they do.

    That won't happen unless those actions get visibility. As more companies go international to squeak around laws designed for safety and responsibility, we may need to take steps as part of the international community to hold those companies liable whether what they do hurts people in their own backyard or someone else's.

    There is a difference from the Nigerian government misusing their own people (which the international community might get involved in) and our own companies causing irreparable harm. But the latter should be something we can do about it, too.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Project Savior, the best we can do is call for change, sing out loud and strong. It might be a drop in the ocean, but it's what we can do. And do what we can to curb our own oil addiction (which I know you're working on - so am I).

    I'm not saying the Nigerian government isn't (or is - I'm not educated enough to have more than an impression) aiding and abetting this misuse. I wouldn't be surprised. Corrupt governments, historically, have been bought off by outside interests, leaving their own populaces to be misused on many many occasions.

    But, as you say, it does not make the oil companies buying them off less culpable. It just means the pool of those responsible is larger. (Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon were both mentioned by name, though Shell apparently has the most systems in place.) Inadequate security (sometimes provided by the government which can lash out at peaceful protestors as much as vandals/thieves) may be part of the problem. But, apparently, corroded pipes and substandard equipment and systems account for much of the contamination.

  • Jeff King

    Great insight everyone... I am left without comment--you all covered it so well, any response would leave me looking stupid.


  • Relax Max

    I indeed mixed up my hurricanes. You have the names down pat. I do remember the hurricane on the Yucatan though, so it must have been reported SOMEWHERE for me to hear about it. Surely not on Fox? I'm not alone in my confusion, though; it appears at least one of your readers has the Post confused with the terrible Washington Times.

    I don't watch Fox News because it has been my experience they don't have any straight news, despite their name. Fox seems to be opinion programs, including their evening "news" block. I do watch Fox "opinion" programming sometimes, though, and have discovered why they are rated so much higher than CNN.

    You say you roll your eyes, in disdain or disgust, I presume, at the mention or even thought of Fox News, and it makes me wonder how many months you spent watching Fox in order to arrive at your informed conclusion. I know you probably did watch Fox for extended periods, because you are not the type of person to jump to conclusions or simply take the statements of other non-watchers at face value; you are far more independent than that. Tell, then, what parts of Fox News you personally watched over time that makes you roll your eyes? Perhaps you could point out some specific untruths? I believe I could do that with regard to the New York Times.

    Anyway, I feel bad when people around the world suffer. I simply realize it is beyond my capacity, or my country's capacity, for that matter, to stop all these things from happening, or alleviate all the suffering when bad things do happen. The U.S. has nothing to be ashamed about with regard to its record in helping out in the world's disasters over many decades, in my opinion.

    There are plenty of voices in the U.S. which have risen up against the oil companies and in support of just about any cause you would care to bring forward. I think you are dead wrong that these things are being swept under the rug, but you are entitled to your opinion, however undocumented. All you really need to do is google any of these things to read all the news items printed about them. You might want to start with Nigerian Oil Spill News, just to see what a big secret that tragedy is here in the U.S. I will grant that probably not enough outrage is being expressed about it, but it is hardly a secret.

  • Aron Sora

    I have an idea, why not make all companies who operate in the US hold to US laws or stricter laws in every country they work in, it could be a political nightmare, but it might work.

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