The bigger spill (the one that even the NYTimes isn’t saying much about)

The Deepwater Horizon blew up on April 20th. About 3 weeks later, when it became apparent that the resulting oil spill was an historic disaster in the making, the New York Times put up a slick (no pun intended) timeline-type slideshow called “A History of Major Oil Spills.”

Intending to write a post on the biological costs of the spill, I clicked on the Times’ slideshow today with the hope of understanding how this disaster stacks up against other oil spills in history. What I found, or rather, didn’t find, has driven me to write about something else instead.

But first, check out the slideshow here.

Grim, yes. But thorough? Absolutely not.

The NY Times' "A History of Major Spills"

The NY Times' "A History of Major Spills"

In the 1970 – 2010 period, currently bookended by spills in Santa Barbara, CA, and the Gulf of Mexico respectively, there’s a whole chunk of oil spill history — about 500 million gallons worth and more — that’s embarassingly and shamefully missing.

What this time-line really looks like is this: I patched this together with data from a stunning article in last Sunday’s Guardian.

Niger Delta spills

Revised Time-line: Oil Spills in the Niger Delta

In the last 40 years, Nigeria’s Niger Delta – a region intricately criss-crossed by waterways, creeks and rivers – has been tunneled and rewired with thousands of oil pipes and storage/pumping stations, most of which have corroded and become leaky. A 3-way armed conflict between a corrupt government, rebels, and the oil companies themselves has led to the oil infrastructure getting blown up on a regular basis. So for the tens of millions of Delta residents, living there means breathing noxious air and surviving off of fouled farmland and soiled wells.

One barely positive effect of a disaster like the Gulf spill is that it invariably throws some much needed light on to similar catastrophes unfolding elsewhere. But it looks like the distance between a problem in Africa and a problem in the West is too far for the light to shine.

Even one of the most widely-read newspapers in the West doesn’t acknowledge that the Nigerian calamity exists. Oh, the paper published an opinion here and a blog post there, to be sure.

But that’s probably all the attention that this blighted region is going to get. The media, money, politicians and pundits are all about 6000 miles away.

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One Response to The bigger spill (the one that even the NYTimes isn’t saying much about)

  1. Pingback: Awash in oily news from the Niger Delta « Matters of Life and Tech

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