As the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to dominate headlines around the world, public outrage is being focused more intensely upon BP and its gaffe-prone CEO Tony Hayward. But amidst this crisis, the public should not forget the atrocities committed by other massive oil companies. For example, Royal Dutch Shell's drilling operations have been spilling oil into the Niger Delta in Nigeria since 1958. Because Nigeria is an impoverished nation and oil revenues fund a majority of government operations, Shell and other companies have been able to drill and pollute without serious oversight for all these years. It is estimated that 13 million barrels of oil have spilled into the delta, making life even more difficult for the region's destitute residents. Shell blames the constant spills on attacks from "rebels," who are in fact minority ethnic groups who feel they have been exploited and displaced by foreign oil companies. But Shell would never consider pulling out of the region or finding ways to avoid ethnic strife. Instead, Shell has proceeded with business as usual, and spilled a record 14,000 tons of crude oil into the delta last year.
Different Continent, Different Story
While Shell has allowed oil spills to become the norm in Nigeria, it tries to appear as a compassionate and environmentally-conscious company to the American public. To assist with the Gulf cleanup efforts, Shell has lent six vessels to BP. This morning, Shell president Marvin Odum told a Congressional panel that it's offshore drilling operations were safe and the BP oil spill is an aberration. In addition, Mr. Odum argued that the six-month moratorium on deep water drilling will create too many hardships for the American people. Mr. Odum and the rest of Shell know that they must seem concerned for the well-being of the American public and the environment if they want to receive permission to drill in American waters. But in Nigeria, where the people are poor and powerless and the government is corrupt, Shell does not have to make such an effort. Anyone who looks at the devastation of the Niger Delta can see that Shell is concerned with its bottom line above all else.