As the US government takes BP to task over the disasterous Gulf of Mexico spill, many Nigerians (including twitter users) are asking, ‘what about Shell?’. There is nothing clean about Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta, where daily oil spills are frequently ignored for months and where ‘clean up’ methods include dumping oil-drenched soil into pits before burning them.
So poor is Shell’s record that over the weekend, the Nigerian government had to remind the company to respect international standards when it does get around to cleaning up a fraction of over 2,400 spill sites in the Delta.
Minister of Environment John Odey has asked Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to ensure that its plan to carry out the clean-up of some 268 sites in the Niger Delta conforms with the Federal Government’s guidelines on environmental standards.
And on Tuesday, Nigeria ‘cautioned’ Exxon Mobil over its frequent oil spills from its offshore facilities. Yet oil companies do not speak the language of reminders and cautions. ‘They will only respond if the boot is on their neck,’ observes an on environmental and waste management expert in Nigeria. ‘They won’t improve anything by themselves.’
The necessary challenge for the Ministry and the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency is to turn their political capital in the wake of Deepwater Horizon into enforceable environmental protection for oil-producing communities who have suffered decades of neglected spills.
Post-Deepwater Horizon, governments face a stark choice. Do nothing, and the oil companies will continue drilling deeper in our seas, lakes and oceans, endangering lives and livelihoods in order to maximise profit. Or take action, by halting further offshore drilling and imposing tougher regulations that force companies to avoid oil spills, conduct proper clean up responses and to pay for the damage that currently falls on local communities.