What does the BP Gulf disaster tell us about the oil industry?

July 1, 2010

By Anna Chapman

The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster may well be the worst US environmental disaster on record, but how does it fit into a global context?

John Vidal, environment editor of The Guardian, and one of the panellists for our Politics of Oil debate on July 13, has argued that the Nigerian experience has been ignored by the US and Europe, despite the fact that the amount of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico since 20 April pales in comparison with the amount polluting the Niger Delta every year.

Here he quotes Nnimo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, who is Nigerian:

‘We see frantic efforts being made to stop the spill in the US… But in Nigeria, oil companies largely ignore their spills, cover them up and destroy people’s livelihood and environments.

The Gulf spill can be seen as a metaphor for what is happening daily in the oilfields of Nigeria and other parts of Africa.’

Take a look at this clip from Amnesty International on oil giant Shell‘s impact on the Niger Delta:

Nigerian national paper The Guardian reports today that oil industry barons are gearing up for the 10th Petroleum Policy Roundtable on 2 July in Lagos. Shell will be attending and a discussion of the Niger Delta is on the table. It will be interesting to see if anything constructive emerges from this process – but on the evidence of the past, that seems unlikely.

Indeed, Shell are continuing to develop plans to start off-shore drilling in the Alaskan Arctic  as Greenpeace claims in a press release, despite the fact that this is the very same method which has caused so much havoc in the Gulf of Mexico. The pressure group’s Paul Horsman says:

The Deepwater Horizon tragedy shows that BP is conducting a massive experiment both by drilling so deep and by it’s attempts to stop the spil… Unfortunately these experiments, with unknown consequences have so far proved disastrous, and could have grave implications for the people who live around the Gulf of Mexico, the economy, and the environment.

Allowing drilling to move forward in the Polar region in the face of tragedy unfolding in the Gulf is at best foolhardy.

It’s clear that the oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico, while disastrous in its own right, is only a small part of a much wider web of continued disregard for the environment and local communities by large oil corporations.

The fact that the BP spill has been labelled as "the worst US environmental disaster" misses the wider point: the oil industry’s reckless behaviour is unchecked and continues across the world right now.