With the media searching for new angles on BP’s Gulf disaster, stories on the devastation in Nigeria and the “normality” of spills in the Delta are now finally making it back into the papers – see Benoit Faucon’s piece in the Wall Street Journal and Adam Nossiter’s NYT article.

It’s about time, as several Exxon spills in quick succession have raised the stakes, despite the company trying to cover up the true extent. A major spill from the company’s Qua Iboe oil fields led to community protests with fisherfolk and women’s groups challenging Exxon. Rev Samuel Ayadi of the Artisan Fishermen Association of Nigeria explained that “We are sick and tired of the oil contamination of the marine environment, which has made fishing a nightmare and less lucrative. Rather than co-exist with us, Mobil wants to force us out of the sea, and we have no other place to go.” Rev Ayadi also demanded that Mobil (Exxon’s subsidiary in Nigeria) refrain from using chemical dispersants to contain oil spills, noting that the poisonous chemical kills fish fingerlings. “The use of ‘Teepol dispersant’ is unsafe for marine life. The chemical is toxic and wipes out generations of fish. Any fish that survives it is tasteless,” he added.

When women demonstrated outside the company’s buildings, soldiers “guarding” the facilities apparently attacked, causing serious injuries including at least one broken leg.

Exxon admitted to a spill caused on June 21st only after three days and repeated complaints by local community members to the company and Nigeria’s National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA). But the company is still claiming that this is a “minor” spill of several hundred barrels from its offshore oil rigs. NOSDRA responded that “the volume [of oil spilled] claimed by the oil firm is doubtful. The oil deposits were sighted at the shoreline, if the volume was insignificant as claimed, it will not get to the shoreline, which is about 20 kilometers from the spill location.” Realistic estimates place the crude released into the sea at closer to 100,000 barrels.

Spill at Exxon’s Qua Iboe Terminal, from Justice in Nigeria Now

Exxon has accepted that the recent spills were due to its own technical failures, not sabotage or theft. The companydeclared force majeure on exports from the 400,000 barrel a day Qua Iboe Terminal back in May following the May 1st spill. Shell had declared its own force majeure on Bonny Light crude oil liftings only a week previously, as a result of leaks and fires on its Trans Niger pipeline.

Source: WSJ: “The fire and smoke plume from the Trans-Niger pipeline in the Niger Delta, April 2009.”