By Adetokunbo Abiola
In Ecuador, Texaco (acquired by Chevron in 2001), poisoned the rain forest with oil spills and billions of gallons of toxic wastewater from 1964 to 1992. A conservative calculation showed that at least 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water and 17 million gallons of crude oil got dumped on the soil of an area spanning 4,400 square kilometers. Yet, Chevron ignored victims by not paying them a penny since a law suit was filed in 1993.
In 2020, pipelines belonging to oil companies got ruptured in the upper part of the Coca river in Ecuador, after a landslide resulting in a spill of crude oil and fuel in the San Rafael sector on the border between Napo and Sucumbios provinces. The ruptured pipelines spilled more than 15,000 barrels of oil into the river, affecting more than 27,000 members of downstream indigenous communities. Up till now, the oil companies refused to adequately compensate the victims of the incident.
In Nigeria, a total number of 16,476 oil spills occurred at different occasions, with the total quantity of approximately three million barrels of oil spilled into the environment, according to records by Nigerian officials. The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) puts the amount of crude oil spilled into the Niger Delta at 2,300 cubic meters, on an average of over 300 spills every year from 1975 to 1995. The oil companies involved refused to pay their own share of compensations for the occurrences.
Major oil companies, in the event of oil spills, most times refuse to pay their own share of compensations across board, reducing the capacity of indigenous people to withstand the onslaught of the climate change. Apart from the Ecuadorian incident at Coca river and the rain forest, and the incidents taking place in Nigeria every year, another instance points at the reticence of oil companies to admit liability or get punished for oil spills. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, about 10.8 million gallons of crude oil got released into the Louisiana waters, but till now, none of the 140 parties thought to be responsible for the event got fined or cited for environmental violations.
In Nigeria, Shell Petroleum Company officials insisted on not paying compensations for up to 2,000 oil spills, as well as appealed a $100 million fine from a Nigerian court over 40 years of oil spills, saying the incidents arose through sabotage.
In Ecuador, Chevron argued that the Ecuadorian government released it from liability over the pollution of the rain forests, and that Ecuador’s state oil company, Petroecuador, should shoulder the responsibility for the remaining damages, then went ahead to hound Steven Donziger, who instituted a law suit on behalf of victims of the spills.
A Houston-based oil pipeline company, Kinder Morgan, argued that oil spills brought economic benefits to communities, through strong spill-related clean up in areas such as Kodiak, Homer, Seward, Valdez, and Anchorage, with respect to the Exxon Valdez incident, which occurred on March 24, 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince Williams Sound and is regarded as the worst spill in U.S. history.
By arguing that oil spills bring economic benefits to communities, or blaming governments for the events as in the case with Ecuador, or claiming that the incidents arose over sabotage as in the case with the Niger Delta, oil companies flaunt time-worn reasons for their refusal to pay compensations to victims.
Through a sample of 296 respondents in Nigeria, experts found that crude oil pollution reduced the size of farmlands significantly by one percent, reducing marginally physical products. Another study found that oil spills led to a 60 percent reduction in household food security, fall in the ascorbic acid contents of vegetables by as much as 36 percent, a cut in the crude protein contents of cassava by 40 percent, and an increase in the prevalence of childhood malnutrition by 24 percent.
Radiation levels within oil-spill areas in the Niger Delta rose about 45 percent higher than the normal background levels. They increased the concentration of lead and cadmium in the leaves of pumpkin by 90 percent. Unfortunately, experts regard cadmium as a cumulative toxin, and most chronic toxicity affect the kidney, bones, and liver.
The Coca river spill of 2020 contaminated the Amazon’s tributary, the Napo river, running through Yasuni, Cayambe Coca, and Sumaco-Napo Galeras natural parks, home to more than 580 species of birds and animals, for example, jaguars, tapirs, river dolphins, harpy eagles, and flycatchers.
In other words, ordinary people at a time of climate change become victims of the refusal of oil companies to pay compensations for spills, when they flow through national parks, or suffer consequences from the rising concentration of lead and cadmium, or become devastated from a a significant reduction in household food security.
To save ordinary people from oil spills, damage assessment for compensation requires a multidisciplinary approach in order to arrive at a fair, equitable, equivalent, just and adequate compensation value. A just and adequate compensation implies the use of professionals from various ﬁelds. In addition, pressure must be put on oil companies by indigenous communities, or events in Ecuador and other places in relation to oil spills will keep taking place.
Restoring a land destroyed by an oil spill is important for the place to return to normal . Before mitigation takes place a study of the destruction caused by the spill should of necessity take place, meaning a sustained ecological, biological and chemical understanding and research. Once the level of destruction has been undertaken measures should be implemented to speed up the restoration of the habitat, especially in a country such as Nigeria, with an increasingly fragile environment. Recovery can mean the reintroduction of plants and animals affected by the spill, erosion control, if damage from the spill has sped up erosion, and a change in management practices, such as controlling fishing and hunting, in impacted areas.