The Other Spills

A Niger Delta oil spill in 2003 Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

While the gulf oil spill gets all the attention, less high-profile but often equally damaging oil and gas spills continue across America and around the world.

BP CEO Tony Hayward will be giving evidence on Capitol Hill today. He is expected to say that his company "and the entire industry will learn from this terrible event and emerge from it stronger, smarter, and safer."

The front page of today's New York Times tells a different story. In Nigeria's Niger Delta, where regulation is so lax as to be virtually nonexistent, and maintenance is merely another cost to be cut, 546 million gallons of oil have clogged waterways, choked ecosystems, killed wildlife and ruined lives over the past five decades, the paper reports.

"The spills here," writes Adam Nossiter, "are all the more devastating because this ecologically sensitive wetlands region, the source of 10 percent of American oil imports, has most of Africa's mangroves and, like the Louisiana coast, has fed the interior for generations with its abundance of fish, shellfish, wildlife and crops."

Oil on Lake Maracaibo Special / Getty Images

It seems unlikely that much in Nigeria will change in the wake of Hayward's testimony today. And hand-wringing on the Hill is unlikely to affect Venezuela much either. On June 7, reports AFP, authorities began investigating a 286-square-mile slick in Lake Maracaibo, in the west of the country. The week before that, another slick appeared near the state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela's Paraguana refinery. It's not just bad luck this June—there have been spills on Lake Maracaibo going back to 2003.

But it's not even necessary to look beyond American shores, or even beyond BP to find other spills. Investigative journalist Greg Palast reports that late last month, 100,000 gallons of oil escaped from pump station nine on the 800-mile transalaska pipeline in which BP owns a controlling stake. Palast blames poor maintenance.

And in Pennsylvania a natural gas well blew out early this month, spewing "gas and at least 35,000 gallons of wastewater into the environment," according to the Associated Press. The company behind the well, EOG Resources, was using a potentially risky technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—it was developed by Halliburton and exempted from regulation by their former CEO Dick Cheney while he was vice president, prompting accusations of a conflict of interest. The probable cause of that spill will be familiar to anyone following events in the gulf of Mexico—the blowout preventer, a series of valves designed to control pressure, failed.