More oil spilled in Nigeria "every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico"

(Video: Al Jazeera report on a new legal battle against Royal Dutch Shell and other foreign oil companies polluting the Niger Delta.)

Imagine BP's Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil disaster happening every single year, with little or no public outcry, no media coverage, and all but silence from government and the companies involved. 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 convictions against them, and no compensation for spill victims. The Niger Delta is now one of the most polluted places in the world. Snip from Guardian article by John Vidal:

nigerde.jpg On 1 May this year a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline in the state of Akwa Ibom spilled more than a million gallons into the delta over seven days before the leak was stopped. Local people demonstrated against the company but say they were 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 rebels. 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 Bayelsa MP. This point was backed by Williams Mkpa, a community leader in Ibeno: "Oil companies do not value our life; 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 is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations. Locals blame the oil that pollutes their land and can scarcely believe the contrast with 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. The US and Europe ignore it (Guardian UK)

My friend Peter Kirn tweets,

I see Ogoniland remains troubled; Shell security shot an Ogoni youth as recently as April. [PDF Link.]

[ Thumbnail: George Esiri/Reuters. A ruptured pipeline burns in a Lagos suburb after an explosion in 2008 which killed at least 100 people. ]


  1. Wow. I hate that many of my posts start like that BoingBoing always seems to be bringing stuff like this to my attention. I hate this kind of division between 1st world and 3rd world countries. We’re not guaranteed justice for this kind of thing here in the US, but there it’s laughable. I find that very sad.

  2. If they really spill that much, it’s hard to imagine they get any oil at all. Losing 1.5 million tons of oil doesn’t sound very economically.

    1. Well, if supply goes down, price goes up, and they end up making more… Also, 1.5 million is what percent of Nigerian oil?

  3. The model in the so-called third world is what the globalists/corporatists/plotucrats want for everyone.
    They want to be able to do whatever the fuck they want, when they want and to whom they want.
    And if they can’t just buy their way to get what they want for stealing resources and killing people, they will do it at the point of a gun.
    This blow out, these crimes in Nigeria and elsewhere are laissez faire capitalism taken to the logical conclusion.
    And the beauty of modern day capitalism raping is that they can get working class people with low brain cell counts to march in the streets for the right to their profit at any cost.

    1. It’s not “laissez faire capitalism”, it’s Letting The Free Market Decide.

      Glenn Beck would be proud of these guys.

    2. Your labeling this as an example of laissez faire capitalism is laughable. It is precisely because they have the protection of the Nigerian government that they are able to do this. Laissez faire is the absence of government control, not a system where the government takes care of those that dump money into their system and pay them off for protection.

      1. Laissez Faire is not the absence of government control, it is the lack of state intervention. There is a very important distinction between state intervention and government control.

        For example, one would like the government to control the market for toys so that no harmful ingredients (like lead) are used (ie. government control or regulation), because this is one example of a variety of different situation in which the free market cannot take care of the problem effectively.

        However, one would not like the government to make toys nor tax the import of or sale of toys excessively without good reason (ie. state intervention in the market).

    3. Chomsky? Is that you?

      Joking aside, you are correct. Corporations, under national and international law, only exist to make a profit. If no one stands up to them, they will abuse human beings and the environment every time. The logic of the market is diametrically opposed to the logic of the living planet.

  4. Why such a surprise.
    Oil gets spilled in any other country than the USA and no one gives a toss.
    Oil gets spilled in the gulf of Mexico and now it’s time to (as Obama in a jingoistic way loves to say) kick some ass.

    1. I don’t see why Obama’s comments are “jingoistic,” unless you’re referring to him calling the company “British Petroleum.” …that was a tempest in a teapot if there ever was one.

      There needs to be a environmental-damage tax applied to all oil companies that is based on the number of barrels of oil extracted, whether or not it ever makes it to consumers. And this tax revenue ought to be split between environmental conservancy organizations and R&D for better green energy. Ha! Sorry, I just laughed at the thought of such a bill ever passing, or even being proposed….

    2. Pretty sure “any country” is grossly inaccurate. Any third-world country, for sure, though.

  5. Two points:

    (1) It gets ignored because Nigeria has very little media or international presence.

    (2) It *doesn’t* get ignored in the sense that there are millions of us in the first world who want to stop using oil for energy. Such a move would neatly solve the problem raised here.

  6. Thanks S5. It’s just there are times when I think that the vast majority of oil consumers think it’s really not their problem until it affects them directly. I really agree with you.

  7. Another case study: Texaco (now Chevron) leached more oil than the BP spill into the Ecuadorean amazon while operating there from 1970 on.

    There’s been a 15 year effort to bring them to trial for the cancer rates and slo-mo environmental catastrophe the local communities have been living through. But, once again, it’s not in the US so not much international interest.

    Check out the recent film “Crude” for the story, or a current op-ed from the NY Times:

  8. MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, has been waging a low-level but highly-effective guerrilla war on oil infrastructure. They’ve inflicted serious economic damages on Shell Oil & Chevron and may represent a model for future resistance groups based around the nexus of oil exploitation & environmental damage.

    I’ve compiled my own research on the topic here:

    What’s unknown is how much additional environmental destruction is the result of MEND’s attacks on oil infrastructure, ie are they primarily motivated by economic disparity or is there indeed great concern for the environment as well…

  9. Somehow, if you could get this video to the reporter who did this story, and she could get the message to these folks, maybe something good would happen. These guys have a very simple solution to getting oil out of water, and it would work in this situation.


  10. I’m really glad that now, at least, I know. Thanks BoingBoing, you offer me the opportunity to act as an enlightened citizen!

  11. The article states that over the last 50 years, foreign oil companies have spilled over 1.5 million tons

    1,500,000 tons/50 years = 30000 ton per year

    30000 ton x 7.33 barrels per ton = 219900 barrels per year (

    Gulf oil leak = 45000 barrels a day or the equivalent of a year of Nigerian leakage every 5 days

    … and a lot of the oil spilled in Nigeria is due to sabotage (

    1. @anonymous,

      The quoted Guardian article was written on May 30, just over one month after the spill. Two weeks have passed since then.

      Remember that initial “official” estimates of flow were 1,000 barrels a day, with debate and gradually up-revised figures that bring us to the current ballpark of– what is it now? 25,000 barrels a day?

      So, arguing over math and comparisons in total amount spilled in the Gulf disaster versus historic totals in the Niger Delta can be tricky, because the Gulf amounts are still so widely debated… and because the flow is still ongoing.

      The Gulf disaster is terrible. The very large number of similarly devastating spills in the Niger delta are also terrible.

  12. i got an official response from shell…

    The oil and gas industry in the Niger Delta is an immensely complex subject, and so we have put a lot of information here that sets out the issues and our responses:

    Our joint venture in Nigeria is committed to stopping all leaks as fast as possible and cleaning up all spill sites. Assessment of spills and clean-up is always done in conjunction with communities and government authorities, using community contractor companies where possible.

    The sad fact is that the majority of oil pollution in the Niger Delta is caused by sabotage or theft. Most spills are caused by heavily-armed gangs who illegally tap into the pipelines to steal large quantities of crude oil. They spill oil, cause widespread environmental damage that impact the lives of affected communities and leave someone else to clean up the mess.

    It is sometimes risky or impossible to send our oil spill response team to stop the leaks immediately because the areas are controlled by these gangs. Some armed, militant groups blow up pipelines and other facilities to stop oil production and draw attention to conditions in the Niger Delta. Last year, thieves or saboteurs spilled about 103,000 barrels from Shell’s joint venture facilities in 95 incidents – an average of one spill every four days. This accounted for almost 98% of the volume of oil spilled during the year.

    whatcha think? i think they could do more

    1. that is bull about how 98% of the oil spill in the niger gulf is cause by gangs who go in with heavy machinery and blow up the pipes wow.. shell is on some b.s. i cant believe it!

  13. “This blow out, these crimes in Nigeria and elsewhere are laissez faire capitalism taken to the logical conclusion.”

    “It’s not “laissez faire capitalism”, it’s Letting The Free Market Decide.”

    This is a succinct lesson in precisely what a free market truly is:

    In how many oil exploitation markets is the status quo enforced by brutal governments in bed with corporations, all colluding to prevent competition, i.e., to prevent a truly free market? Such an arrangement is a market that is far from free.

    1. So you’re actually claiming that if more oil companies were able to compete in Nigeria without government interference, they’d be more environmentally friendly? What exactly would cause that?

  14. …and we think the exact same sort of exploitation won’t happen in afghanistan now that we’ve found trillions in mineral deposits there? same old same old…

  15. Regulation is state intervention, the distinction you suggest is false and neither scenario could be called laissez faire. Under a system of free exchange, the governments role would not be to “control the market for toys” but rather to ensure that people and property have legal protection. For instance, if someone gets lead poisoning from a toy then the government would ensure that there is a sound mechanism (the courts) to allow the victim to seek compensation.

    The problem that most needs to be addressed in Nigeria (and in USA) is that the government is unwilling to protect people and property from oil companies, and is indeed in cahoots with them. As the report says, (paraphrasing) the Nigerian government partners with oil companies in exploration projects and so pollution damage cases against the oil industry can never succeed in Nigerian courts.

    The reason that there is such a difference in oil company response to spills in USA vs those in Nigeria is that as corrupt as our government is, the situation is much worse in Nigeria. BP is in very real danger of collapsing due to legal liabilities resulting from this spill, whereas the Nigerian courts are extremely unlikely to rule against Royal Dutch Shell.

  16. This is the exact same article I have been linking to on other sites.

    I am not going to cite ills re: gov’s or ideologies, but the fact remains that OUR planet is being raped.

  17. Blaming this on laissez faire misses the point.

    Even the most ardent libertarians/anarcho-capitalists, who reject the very legitimacy of modern governments, would all agree that society must devise some manner of peacefully correcting wrongs that one party has inflicted on another.

    Remember, to many on the right, the rights of “private property” are hugely important. This article documents point of this article is a wholesale violation of those rights.

    Regulation is focused on preventing perceived problems before they happens. The usefulness of this is variable. For instance, with the toys cited above..well, I would not like them regulated, thank you very much. I simply won’t buy any shit made in China, I would rather trust local handmade toys I can verify.

    The largest problems of regulation are these: 1) They are over time tilted in favor of the largest players; so they barely faze them but knock out the little guys. This is very true of, for instance, toys. 2) They provide the illusion that things are taken care of and that there is no risk, so that other safeguards become more lax.

    Again, this situation is Nigeria is not due to under-regulation, but rather a complete failure of the court system to protect people from harm.

    In general, no government at all is preferable to a powerful government that is corrupted and in bed with the monied interests. Unfortunately, this is the long term state of governments virtually all the time, thus I am happy to call myself an anarchist, looking for different and better solutions to our common problems outside of the state paradigms.

  18. Uh, #3 – you do realize that Nigeria is a socialist country, right?

    Very little laissez faire going on there.

    1. Uh, what..? Nigeria is a Federal Republic. It holds elections for the house, senate and president just like the US. And it has long had a petroleum-based economy with the rights for foreign oil companies to do whatever they want so long as they paid the right people.

      Start here.

  19. And the fact that Al Jazeera is doing this and that we’ll NEVER hear this on US commercial media is also really too bad.

  20. Nigeria has been maintained in the state of chaos it currently enjoys so that Cheney’s cronies could ship their illegally seized Iraqi oil through it.

    Where did you think the missing billions of barrels went? Did you think it was magicked into the tenth dimension? Did you not notice the satellite blackouts?

    Nigeria is an oil laundry. It has been since Bush the First, at least.

  21. As an American by trade, I am shamed. As an African by design, I am outraged. Does being American (in my case, African-American) grant me a license to be globally aloof? The cover of time had a picture of the oil drenched pelican but we don’t see people of color drenched in oil. My American media system; somedays it is nothing more than digital holocaust.
    W. Russell Robinson
    Durham, NC–

  22. When I read environmental stories like this (and very salient this one was too) I’m always amazed to see the same old libertarian syllogisms pop up about it all being that (insert anywhere’s) government’s fault. When companies such as these take advantage of corrupt, developing world regimes they are using their power and wealth to pay the government in question to abdicate its governmental repsonsibilities in a certain area. In other words, the company obtains de facto autonomy through the exchange. It exchanges its wealth for the power to regulate – the power doesn’t suddenly stop being state power to become free market power, it’s still just power. The company in question is in fact operating in that ever so eulogised, perfect free market. If you frame it in a different way, the government could instead just be another rival company, the corp in question has does no more than to convince some of its rival’s workers to switch sides for better pay. In a similar manner, the former soviet union became the industiralised world’s most polluted nation, not because it was over regulated but because it wasn’t regulated at all – the government were the regulators as well as the producers. Even in modern market democracies the least polluting (but of course, the still far too polluting) countries are those with the toughest regulations – e.g. europe and Japan.

    1. “government could instead just be another rival company”

      Except it doesn’t work that way. There is no “perfect free market” in your example because your “rival company” will at best ignore and at worst encage and murder those people, who they will call rebels, who recognize another group as their government.

      Apart from the oil situation I have no idea how satisfied Nigerians are with their government, but it seems likely that at least those most affected by pollution would abandon the current regime in short order if the costs of doing so were not so high.

  23. This is a really interesting article on the evident double standards present in society today i.e. BP in the USA vs Shell in Nigeria. In an episode of Ross Kemp on Pirates, he interviewed an anonymous person who claimed that the gangs who stole from the oil wells in Nigeria were also affiliated to the government and indicated that there was a complex web of corruption in the country. Nigeria is a beautiful country and although the wealth of the nation is driven by ‘Black Gold’, its important that the government helps preserve country’s natural beauty so they don’t hinder progress for their population in the future.

  24. Greetings, there is a viable and economical way to plug the leak in the gulf. It is similar to balloon angioplasty, but on an industrial scale with a bit of tweeking but it will work IF THEY DO IT!!!! don’t hold your breath though folks, I’ve been emailing news organizations, congress the senate and the white house along with bp telling them about this solution. It’s like screaming into a hurricane though, no one can hear me and everyone is so busy with talking points and trying to gain some political ground, no one seemingly wants the leak plugged.
    Anyway, to plug the leak, as I stated earlier it is similar to balloon angioplasty, if you are unfamiliar with what that is, search youtube, they have video.. The tweeking is the balloon will have to be inside the thread feeder, when in place deep inside the leak, deploy the balloon and fill with some proprietary concrete/cement mixture, let it setup and LEAK FIXED.
    So simple even an elected official could comprehend it.. tell your friends, loved one’s and anyone else that you know about this fix and lets get the leak plugged and move on with our lives. Have a nice day,… OH and for the people who will inevitably scoff that such an easy idea will work, could it really hurt to try? because to date, they’ve not done a whole lot with the leak so why not try balloon angioplasty on the leak.

  25. This is Kim from Shell. The Gulf of Mexico spill is a tragedy. As you can imagine we are following this very closely and any lessons we can learn from this will be taken on. It is also very sad there are spills in Nigeria and as noted in comment 14 we are committed to stopping all leaks as fast as possible and cleaning up all spill sites. Over the last 10 years Shell operational spills in Nigeria amounted to a total of some 134,000 barrels. If sabotage by militants and criminal gangs is included this figure rises to a total of some 415,000 barrels. This compares with the growing spill from BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico estimated at some 2 million barrels, five times the amount, depending on the rate of spill.

  26. It’s amazing to see what the Oil companies are able to get away with. Sadly enough, we haven’t even seen the tip of the impact this oil spill is going to have for generations to come.

    Check out the Spill Calculator to see how much oil is really gushing out.

Comments are closed.