On December 20, a leak was discovered in one of the lines of the Royal Dutch Shell-operated Bonga offshore oil field, located off of the Nigerian Coast. While Shell contends that the oil spill has been contained, close to 40,000 barrels — or 1.68 million gallons — of crude oil have leaked out into approximately 350 square miles of ocean. Although not as bad as the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill in the Gulf Coast, the risk that comes to the surrounding environment and people is still abhorent.
This month’s spill is quickly becoming known the worst offshore spill that Nigeria has experienced in over a decade. According to environmental rights group Friends of the Earth, local fisheries are at risk, particularly in the area where the local Bonga fish resides — a major food and protein source for West Africa. The detrimental effects of contaminating the food supply for a large number of people are obvious. Simply put, public health will be at risk as the supply of fish is depleted and/or surviving fish are contaminated with toxic chemicals.
Additionally, the shore is also at risk. While Shell states that the spill has been contained, Friends of the Earth and Environmental Rights Action have reported that communities in Odioama have seen some unsuspected slicks. Odioama is located in the Niger Delta, an area which has already seen horrors due to Shell’s impact on the land.
In August of this year, the UN published a report stating that it would take over 30 years to clean up the 50 years of oil operations in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta. With families drinking contaminated water filled with carcinogens, the impact that oil has had on the environment and on the people living there is wholly negative and has put a population of people at risk. Furthermore, according to the head of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, this spill could have further environmental impacts that would affect people for the long-term.
As much as Shell would like to think that this oil spill is completely contained, it has not addressed the underlying problems that it has already caused. To further complicate matters, the Bonga field accounts for 10% of Nigeria's oil production (200,000 barrels of oil a day); and, Nigeria is a top supplier of oil for the U.S.
However, we must devise a safer way to produce oil to ensure the safety of both the people living there and the environment. Pushing for and researching cleaner and safer alternatives, and decreasing out dependence on oil, would be a start.
Photo Credit: artwork_rebel