Friday, 28 May 2010

Newsnet Comment - Why Oil Companies Should Know Better.

In another of our weekly comments on world events, Ben Aulakh gives us his view on why oil companies should be held accountable for the pollution they cause.

What is it with oil companies and polluting the environment? It doesn’t seem to matter, which (mostly western) nation the prevailing fossil fuelled firm hails from, they seem to have the same scant regard for looking after the areas from which either the ‘black gold’ is exploited, or passes through on it’s way to refinement.

Two events involving oil companies and the environment make this clear; the continuing pollution of the Niger Delta by Royal Dutch Shell, or the more recent devastation caused by the underwater British Petroleum Macado oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.

The importance of the Niger Delta – as both a population centre and a natural resource is undeniable – as a recent advertising campaign from human rights organisation Amnesty International makes clear. The area is home to more than 31 million people, and is considered one of the top 10 most important wetland and marine ecosystems in the world.

The advert states that for people who live in and around the delta, their daily life is blighted, “By having to drink polluted water, having to grow crops in polluted soil, catch fish in polluted rivers, and raise children in polluted homes.”

These facts are further supported by two important statistics from Amnesty; that more than 9 million barrels of oil have been spilt in the delta in the last 50 years, and that 75 per cent of its population have no access to clean water.

It is a similar story of woe in the Gulf of Mexico where the recent disaster began when the firm’s Deepwater rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers. Since then the United States government estimates that between 12,000 and 19, 000 barrels of oil a day have been leaking from the Macado well, ruptured in the explosion.

The US government have projected that after 37 days, the slick could be twice as large as the fallout from the tanker Exxon Valdez, which hit a reef off Alaska in 1989.

The probable longer term impact of the slick has been described as "Being felt for generations to come," by Regan Nelson, senior oceans advocate at the Natural Resources Defence Council in Washington.

There have also been reports from the area by Environmental scientists – some of whom have toured the marshes off Louisiana by boat. They have described a vast expanse of crude oil half an inch thick, with no visible sign of any BP or government clean-up efforts.

Both Shell and BP have enjoyed fantastic profits in recent years; Shell had a bumper year in 2008 with profits of $31 billion – more than £21 billion. BP had a slightly more modest year; however they still posted a return after costs of $3.1 billion – £2.12 billion.

How can it be that companies, who make such obscene amounts of money from doing little more than exploiting a readily available natural resource and refining it into usable substances, can be allowed to cause such unbelievable natural pollution?

How can it be morally right, just and fair that either millions of people in the Niger Delta, or a vast array of marine wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico have to suffer tremendous hardship and devastation, caused by companies who possess such deep-pockets to put each situation right, or prevent either from happening in the first place?

Surely it is time that governments all around the world, be they rich or poor, developed or developing, take a stand against a million-dollar business which seems to act and behave with complete impunity in causing grave environmental damage to some of the most important ecosystems on the planet.

I for one do not want to again switch on my television or pick up a newspaper to see the images and read about the human cost of such terrible damage. I also no longer want a repeat of this morning, when I switched on my radio to hear the representative of some oil giant making excuses for the terrible natural destruction that the company which employs him has done to the environment.

This grave pollution has to stop, before more people and animals lives are blighted by companies who should know and behave better.

Statistics supplied by Amnesty International, The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph.

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