Oil, Ogoni and Shell

Oil damages the environment, not just by the burning of it creating climate change but in other more noticeable ways. Since 1958 oil companies have been extracting oil from the Ogoniland region of Nigeria. This is a flat tropical wetland, where the local population have fished and farmed for centuries, interrupted by events such as slave trading and, in its modern form, oil exploitation. Both slavery and oil exploitation have features in common where oil is recklessly taken out of the land, without care as to whether the process beggars or enslaves the local population.

The oil exploitation has always threatened the survival of the indigenous Ogoni people. Nearly twenty years ago they protested at the exploitation and the consequent neglect of their own government and the oil giants. Their leaders have been executed and the people largely oppressed so that in the developed world we can drive cars with relatively cheap petrol. Had the Ogoni been treated properly we might have found that the cost of doing so would have added a few dollars to a barrel of oil, but instead neglect was cheaper than caring for the Ogoni and the environment and this left the Ogoni in increasingly desperate straits until things went really bad.

In 2008 and 2009 some oil pipelines leaked out large quantities of oil into the wetlands. Unlike the Gulf of México Ogoniland is enclosed; there is nowhere for the oil to disperse and nowhere for it to go. It poisoned the lakes and rivers killing fish and ending livelihoods.

At first the oil companies blamed people for stealing oil, opening the pipelines, sabotaging them and allowing oil to leak. The Ogoni blamed the oil companies who exploited the oil and built the pipelines. As a majority shareholder in the venture which exploited the oil was the Nigerian government, all sorts of problems arose. The United Nations investigated into who was responsible, but that investigation was paid for by one of the oil companies involved – Shell.

Finally an English lawyer, Martin Day, threatened to sue Shell on behalf of the Ogoni population and bring the lawsuit in London. The threat scared the oil companies; if the London lawsuit succeeded it would set a dangerous and expensive precedent. The claim was settled, as I understand it, without much ado. Shell admitted responsibility for the oil leaks in 2008 and 2009 and agreed to compensate the Ogoni people in accordance with the rules of Nigerian law.

So far in these early days I do not think a penny in compensation has been paid or that any significant cleanup work has been done. All that will follow, i hope, and sooner rather than later.

The United Nations Environment Programme brokered the present settlement, but they do not emerge from this with any credit, having reported earlier that the oil spills were due to sabotage. Many Ogoni are claiming that they have been excluded from participating in the present report by United Nations Environment Programme which took four years and $10 million to conclude that the Ogoni land has been severely damaged by oil exploitation.

Shell has claimed that it will spend $1 billion on the cleanup of the land and that clean up will take thirty years.

If you compare and contrast the oil spill in the Gulf of México with the oil spills in Ogoniland you are drawn to the conclusion that BP choose unwisely; if you are going to spill some oil, do so away from the shores of the USA, preferably in some poor region where you can influence the government and where very few people actually care about what you do, and those that care do not matter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: