Why aren’t oil companies apologising for the oil spills in Nigeria?

Published: November 29, 2015

Oil companies are causing a big environmental hazard by spilling (read emitting) Green House Gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere; in an attempt to keep the world economy as it is and for the power – they are the biggest opponents of renewable energy. PHOTO: REUTERS

The current world economy is structured in such a way that the fossil fuel industry has unquestionable hegemonic power. Developed and developing economies alike need energy to sustain and grow. This energy market is monopolised by the fossil fuel industry.

Oil, natural gas and other energy producing fossil fuels have not only helped build some of the biggest companies in the world, but have also aided the development and solidification of certain national economies like the Gulf states and Venezuela.

This monopoly in the energy sector seems to have given oil corporations power over states – allowing certain companies to be careless in cleaning up massive oil spills, such as the one in Ogoniland, Nigeria.

A recent Amnesty International report has accused the oil company of not implementing the clean-up recommendations by the UN. Of course, the oil company has denied all such claims.

One could argue that Nigeria has had a harder time dealing with its oil spill as compared to the United States, because of its weaker political clout in the international arena. In 2010, the US government made BP accept its moral responsibility for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and fined the company $18.6 billion for a one-time occurrence. Whereas in Nigeria, there have been a number of oil spills and nobody has taken full responsibility.

UNEP report says that cleaning up Ogoniland might take up to 30 years.

That’s three decades of hard work to rectify the destruction caused by an aloof and irresponsible corporation. Damage to the environment to this degree is absolutely criminal and there should be some form of retribution.

Yet, nothing has happened. The world sleeps while Ogoniland becomes inhabitable.

Oil spills can be extremely damaging for the environment, as evidenced by environmental damage caused in Nigeria and the Gulf of Mexico, but for me, the bigger problem is oil itself. Oil companies are surreptitiously causing an even bigger environmental hazard by emitting Green House Gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. Moreover, their hold over the global economy and their power grabbing ways has made it difficult for the world to endorse renewable energy.

While many countries are trying to reach a deal for the future of our planet in Paris, big oil has been constantly lobbying to make it difficult for an agreement to be reached. Fortunately for us, they are fighting an evolving economy, one that won’t have much room for them in the future.

The elephant in the room, and the third reason to be wary of fossil fuels, comes from a seventh grade geography book – fossil fuels are called non-renewable energy sources because there is a finite amount that we can dig up. Oil wells will eventually run dry, and when they do, the world economy will be in a flux.

In fact, even before the wells dry up, we can foresee a situation where demands would far exceed the supply and prices would start shooting up. The process has already begun.

We are all well aware of the fact that a scarcity of resources can lead to intense competition and outbreak of violence. One of the reasons for the civil war in Syria has been the diminishing supply of water in rural areas.

Unfortunately, a recent study has revealed that Pakistan has much higher oil and shale gas reserves than what was previously known. For me, this finding is a curse disguised as a natural resource blessing. As the world moves closer to an agreement on climate at the Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris, the prevailing economic structure in the world is going to have a fundamental transformation, where renewable and green energy sources will eventually completely phase out fossil fuels. While big oil is spending hundreds of millions trying to promote the fossil fuel industry, public opinion in developed countries like the US is definitely in favour of action against climate change.

Having said that, let’s bring the issue back home.

Why should Pakistan care about climate change and big oil?

Given that we have vulnerable areas and people are already being affected by climate change, we need to become cognisant of our environmental situation. Although, all of us would certainly like the idea of having some of our own oil to ensure self-sufficiency in the energy sector, we desperately need to allocate some of our resources into developing renewable forms of energy in the country.

Burhan Razi

Burhan Razi

The author is a development professional based in Washington DC. He is also a lover of mangoes. He tweets as @Raziburhan (twitter.com/raziburhan)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.