I learned something rather shocking recently from a post by Elisabeth Rosenthal to nytimes.com/green. Rosenthal told of an article published last Sunday in The Guardian of London, in which John Vidal, the paper’s environmental editor, recalled a visit to the Niger Delta a few years back, where he literally swam in “pools of light Nigerian crude.” Apparently, decrepit pipes and oil extraction equipment in the area have caused serious leaks and spills for quite some time: “More oil is spilled from the delta’s network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico,” writes Vidal.
We Americans just don’t hear about these kinds of environmental tragedies “over there.” After all, Nigeria is far from our thoughts, not really relevant to our lives. Most of us really don’t even know where it is. But the fact is according to the Vidal article, the Niger Delta supplies 40 percent of all of the crude oil imported by the United States. Companies sucking that oil out of the ground include BP, Shell, and Exxon.
Rosenthal makes the point that people in the United States are outraged at BP’s carelessness and indifference to our precious environmental resources in the Gulf of Mexico, but shouldn’t we be equally concerned about the behavior of oil companies in developing countries, where our oil comes from? Ben Ikari, a member of the Ogoni people, was quoted by Vidal: “If this gulf accident had happened in Nigeria, neither the government nor the company would have paid much attention. This kind of spill happens all the time in the delta.”
As the oil from the Deepwater spill flows hundreds and hundreds of miles from its source, killing creatures, ruining fisheries and destroying wetlands, we realize once again that we live in one small world, and that what affects one affects us all. It follows, then, if we drive a car or use plastics, we need to be concerned with oil spills in the Niger Delta. It’s never “those people” or “over there”–it’s always us.