Sunday, 8 July 2012

Oil spill in Bayelsa State, Nigeria.

Oil has been found leaking from the Nembe-Obama Pipeline in Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta this weekend. It is unclear how long the pipeline had been leaking before it was discovered, or what caused the leak, but pipeline owners the Italian energy giant ENI say the pipeline is now shut off and under repair. Nengi James-Eriworio, Chairman of the Oil and Gas Committee of the Nembe Kingdom,  has accused the oil company of delaying tactics in implementing inspections and cleanups on the pipeline, allowing spilled oil to damage forests and mangroves.

An enterprising local uses the Nembe-Obama Pipeline (recently renamed in honour of the US president) as a laundry aid. National Mirror.

ENI have blamed the spill on the work of saboteurs, a common response from oil companies in the Niger Delta who claim that local people attack pipelines in order to steal the oil which they refine themselves (an extremely hazardous process) or sell on the black market. Whilst this is undoubtably true to some extent, it is difficult to accept that this is the sole cause of leaks in the Delta, nor that this absolves the oil companies of all responsibility.

Oil in the Niger Delta is found in a large number of small reservoirs close to the surface. Consequently the countryside is dotted with a lot of small oil wells, and crisscrossed by a large number of small pipelines. These small pipelines are insecure and vulnerable to sabotage and other forms of damage, and, because they are numerous and often cross long distances, inspecting these pipelines is time-consuming and expensive, so that when leaks do occur they often cause considerable damage to the environment.

Map showing the oil fields (orange), pipelines (black) and terminals (white) of the Niger Delta. Lighter green areas are dry land, darker are mangrove swaps. Agbalagba, Avwiri & Chad-Umoreh (2012).

At the same time the Niger Delta has remained one of the poorest regions of Nigeria, with many people lacking electricity or basic sanitation, and are dependent on industries easily disrupted by the oil industry, such as small scale farming or fishing. This has led to an ongoing series of confrontations between the peoples of the Niger Delta and the oil companies. The Nigerian Government, which is to a large extent reliant on revenues from the oil fields, has often proved to be ineffectual at regulating the oil companies, and has occasionally been savage when dealing with the peoples of the Delta. This situation seems unlikely to be resolved until either Nigeria achieves a sufficiently diverse economy to be able to risk offending the oil companies, or the oil fields of the Delta run dry. Unfortunately at the moment it is looking likely that the later will happen before the former.


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