July 02, 2010

COEXISTing with the oil industry

“The only thing we have to fear on the planet is man” - Carl Gustav Jung

Who Compensates the Planet?

When Shell fouls the Niger Delta with indiscriminate toxic oil waste dumping, do the people of America and other oil producing countries come to the rescue of impoverished Nigerian farmers? Are the people whose lives and health are affected adequately compensated? Do they even get to live?

The people of the Niger Delta are poor and are left to struggle alone. There is no global solidarity and thus no lessons are learned. Large multinational corporations get away with diabolical behavior in developing countries, but it is only a matter of time before the results of their belligerence wash up on shores nearer home.

Shell has targeted the Niger Delta for crude oil extraction since the 1950s and the surrounding area has continually suffered extreme and unremediated environmental damage from decades of criminal and indiscriminate oil waste dumping.

The people of the Niger Delta witnessed the slow poisoning of the waters, and the destruction of their vegetation and agricultural land. The majority of people in this region depend on the natural environment for their food and livelihood, particularly through agriculture and fisheries. Amnesty International quotes sources suggesting that in the last 50 years at least 9 million barrels of oil have leaked into land and rivers in the region. The true figure could be much higher.

A non-violent campaign for justice - the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People was started and attempted to claim compensation for those whose health and livelihood had been destroyed. There was no outside help, no media coverage and no-one but a corrupt government to appeal to. Members of the Movement were arrested, hastily tried by a special military tribunal, and hanged.

When Trafigura baulked at the cost of having its oil derived toxic waste properly disposed of, it dumped the sludge onto the Ivory Coast where it hoped no-one would find it. Thousands of people became ill and the Dutch authorities eventually brought Trafigura to trial where they reached an out of court settlement and agreed to pay 30,000 people the princely sum of £334,000– about 11 quid each.

By contrast, BP have put $20 billion into a compensation fund for those affected by the Gulf of Mexico spillage, and that is just for starters. Americans living many miles away from the disaster, and who are barely affected by it, are putting in claims for compensation – which they are likely to get.

Meanwhile, Cairn Energy starts drilling off Greenland next month in a stretch of sea known as Iceberg Alley. Unusually, it will use two drilling rigs, so if there is a blowout from the first the second can immediately start on a relief well to stem the flow of oil. This is good insurance for the company, but bad, bad news for the planet. Environmental disasters in difficult terrain are now an expectation. For as long as we demand oil, someone will drill for it.

During the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi Army destroyed tankers, oil terminals, and oil wells in Kuwait, causing the release of about 900,000,000 barrels of oil. This was the largest oil spill in history. There was no shoreline cleanup and the oil lakes which formed were left untreated. The long term effects were significant and heavy pollution remains in the desert and on the seabed. Nonetheless, large compensation claims were awarded to Kuwaiti companies and individuals to the tune of over $52 billion.

The amount of compensation awarded seems to be decided only by your relative wealth. The poorest get nothing. Indeed they are fortunate to escape with their lives. The human rights situation in many oil polluted regions is dire.

The international standard for environmental safety and compensation seems to be ‘whatever you can get away with'.

But it is not just people who are affected by these irresponsible disasters, it is the planet. The one living planet we must all learn to share and take care of if it is to serve the human race. A healthy planet –complete with its wondrous and diverse life forms – is required to fill bellies and provide energy sources for an ever expanding population. If we continually pump toxins into the atmosphere, continually poison the land and sea with chemicals, we cannot expect it to support more than a few of us. Only we who live on this planet can be the caretakers, and only by linking up with, and furthering the rights of people suffering on shores other than our own can we possibly hope to foment a more healthy and more sustainable future. In a shrinking world our neighbours are everyone. Their environmental disaster is our warning. The more we support our global neighbour, the less likely it will be for the profiteering corporations to foul on our own doorsteps.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shell_Oil_Company
http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=18292
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Compensation_Commission

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10 comments:

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