Washington Babylon — June 3, 2010, 7:06 am

BP’s Oily Mess: Welcome to the United States of Nigeria

I received an email from a reader this morning that said, “A friend from Nigeria now living in the U.S….said BP has made such a mess in Nigeria that generations in some area have mainly experienced the great outdoors as an oily mess. He said BP would consider its leak off of the southern coast of the U.S. very minor by Nigeria-spill standards.”

Based on this article in The Guardian, that assessment seems spot on.

More oil is spilled from the delta’s network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a major ecological catastrophe caused by oil that has poured from a leak triggered by the explosion that wrecked BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig last month.

That disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 rig workers, has made headlines round the world. By contrast, little information has emerged about the damage inflicted on the Niger delta. Yet the destruction there provides us with a far more accurate picture of the price we have to pay for drilling oil today.

On 1 May this year a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline in the state of Akwa Ibom spilled more than a million gallons into the delta over seven days before the leak was stopped. Local people demonstrated against the company but say they were attacked by security guards. Community leaders are now demanding $1bn in compensation for the illness and loss of livelihood they suffered. Few expect they will succeed. In the meantime, thick balls of tar are being washed up along the coast.

Update: Craig Morris writes that the Guardian article contained a significant mistake in saying that “the Niger Delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports.” Nigeria as a whole provides about seven to eight percent of American imports, well behind Canada and Mexico as a supplier.

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