Commentary: We're only outraged about oil spill that we can see

The Miami HeraldJune 7, 2010 

It's Day 47 of what we regard as an utterly unacceptable environmental disaster. We watch in horror as the first tar balls wash onto the Florida Panhandle's sugar-sand beaches.

It's Day 32 in Akwa Ibom. Not that anyone in the Niger River Delta has bothered to count the days since an offshore spill added another million gallons of crude to an already devastated estuary.

Oil bursting from an oil rig operated by a subsidiary of ExxonMobile has polluted the sea, poisoned tidal marshes and escalated the miseries caused by Niger oil extraction.

But the word "unacceptable" has no meaning in Nigeria's bleak oil fields.

The Guardian of London reported last week that the Niger Delta's aging pipes, terminals, pumping stations and offshore oil platforms spill more oil each year than what has leaked from the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon.

Niger's marshes are just as fragile as those at the mouth of the Mississippi. Nigeria's wildlife is as vulnerable. Local farmers and fishermen have endured much more hurt than their counterparts along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The African Commission on Human Rights in 2001 and Amnesty International in 2009 documented dramatic human suffering from some 300 spills a year. Fishing and farming have been ruined. Drinking water has been poisoned. Incessant gas burn-offs pollute the air. Amnesty International reports significant and escalating health problems. Wetlands have been transformed into vast apocalyptic landscapes drenched in thick black syrup.

The national government admits that 2,000 major oil spills, some years old, still await cleanup. Nigeria has tough-sounding environmental laws, of course, but no enforcement by a government utterly corrupted by big-oil money.

Nigeria's beleaguered, bullied, persecuted (and occasionally murdered) environmental activists contrast international outrage over the BP spill with the western world's willful indifference to the ruin oil extraction brings to third-world environments.

To read the complete column, visit www.miamiherald.com.

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