The British Petroleum oil leak is the biggest oil-related disaster in history. But its size is the only thing that makes this disaster unique. Disregard for the environment and human life, the corrupt relationship between government and the oil company and the attempt to conceal the true scope of the disaster –that’s business as usual for the oil industry.
The Niger Delta
In Nigeria, oil giants Chevron, Exxon, and Shell have destroyed delicate ecosystems and poisoned and terrorized local populations in their quest for oil-profits. In the Niger Delta, home to Nigeria’s largest oil reserves, people are forced to live amidst pollution from leaking pipelines and gas flares that burn constantly. It is estimated that as much as 11 million gallons of oil per year leak into the Delta’s marshlands from poorly maintained pipelines, some of which are over 40 years-old. The leaks have turned the Delta’s marshlands into dead zones. To access the Delta’s oil, whole forests are often cleared and entire villages are uprooted to make way for pipelines and oil wells. The oil companies have a cozy relationship with the Nigerian government, who use armed forces to repress the population and protect the oil companies.
In May of this year, a pipeline owned by Exxon burst and leaked millions of gallons of oil into the Delta. The leak lasted more than a week before it was contained. When people organized demonstrations against Exxon, they were attacked by armed thugs.
In the 1990s, Shell worked in collaboration with Nigeria’s military dictatorship to murder and imprison activists among the Ogoni people who were fighting the destruction of their land in the Niger Delta. Shell supplied weapons and hired Nigerian soldiers as mercenaries to shoot at people protesting the construction of pipelines through their villages. The government brutally attacked the activists who organized protests. In 1995, nine Ogoni activists were arrested and hanged.
From 1964 to 1990, Texaco (now owned by Chevron) dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the rivers of the Amazon rainforest. Texaco calculated that dumping the waste would save $3 dollar on each barrel of oil. But local communities used these rivers and streams for drinking, bathing, and cooking. The poisoned water caused cancer rates in Ecuador to rise to 30 times higher than in any other part of the country. Over 1,400 people in region the have died from sicknesses caused by contaminated water.
Texaco left Ecuador in 1992, but left behind over 1000 toxic oil pits throughout the Amazon. This poison continues to leak into the region’s river and streams. Chevron, as the new owner of Texaco refuses to compensate the victims of the pollution, or to clean up the mess. A lawsuit filed by indigenous groups against Chevron is now in its 17th year. The company has done everything it can to disrupt the trial, including fabricating evidence against the presiding judge.
Not Out of the Ordinary
What we are seeing today in the Gulf of Mexico is nothing new for the oil industry. In every oil-producing region in the world, the oil-companies are there squeezing out every last dime of profit they can. They do this every day — polluting, manipulating, and murdering, all in the pursuit of profit. Cost-cutting for them means destruction and disaster for us. The life of every living thing on the planet is threatened by their actions every day.