Nigeria and a Sense of Proportion

Should we be worried about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Yes. Should BP take whatever steps are necessary to stop the spill, remediate the harm done to the environment, reimburse those who’ve suffered losses as a consequence of the spill, and have their feet held to the fire until they do? Hell, yes. Should the federal government do a better job of monitoring and regulating off-shore oil rigs and exploration? Definitely. Should we impose a tax on carbon that reduces our dependence on and consumption of oil? I’ve supported that for 35 years.

Should we ban pumping oil from off-shore wells or ban off-shore exploration within our waters? Maybe not so much.

Roughly 43% of the oil that we consume every year is produced domestically, produced here in the United States. Much of that is pumped from the some like 5,000 off-shore wells in the Gulf of Mexico. The remaining 57% is imported from other countries. Our greatest imports and the greater portion of our imports is from just five countries: Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Nigeria (same source). The spillage at sea, in the delta, and on land in Nigeria is approximately the equivalent of one spill the size of the spill in the Gulf every year over the period of the last 50 years:

“We see frantic efforts being made to stop the spill in the US,” said Nnimo Bassey, Nigerian head of Friends of the Earth International. “But in Nigeria, oil companies largely ignore their spills, cover them up and destroy people’s livelihood and environments. The Gulf spill can be seen as a metaphor for what is happening daily in the oilfields of Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

“This has gone on for 50 years in Nigeria. People depend completely on the environment for their drinking water and farming and fishing. They are amazed that the president of the US can be making speeches daily, because in Nigeria people there would not hear a whimper,” he said.

It is impossible to know how much oil is spilled in the Niger delta each year because the companies and the government keep that secret. However, two major independent investigations over the past four years suggest that as much is spilled at sea, in the swamps and on land every year as has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico so far.

One report, compiled by WWF UK, the World Conservation Union and representatives from the Nigerian federal government and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, calculated in 2006 that up to 1.5m tons of oil — 50 times the pollution unleashed in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Alaska — has been spilled in the delta over the past half century. Last year Amnesty calculated that the equivalent of at least 9m barrels of oil was spilled and accused the oil companies of a human rights outrage.

We have less influence on the environmental effects of spillage in oil production in other countries than we have here. If we are sincerely concerned about the consequences of such spillage as arises from our own appetite for more and more oil, we should want to reduce our total consumption of oil and, particularly, our oil imports from places over which we have little influence and in which there’s less concern, if anything, about the environment impact of oil production than there is here.

Increasing the cost oil produced in the United States without increasing the cost of oil produced everywhere will have the perverse effect of our importing a greater proportion of our oil and, in all likelihood, increasing the aggregate environmental damage. That damage will, however, be far beyond our control and power to remediate. Off-shore oil spills in Nigeria aren’t nearly as convenient for quick, shocking photos of oil-soaked seabirds. No quick side trips to the French Quarter for Cajun food, either.

Think we can avoid damaging the Gulf if we ban new Gulf exploration in our waters? Maybe not. While our eyes have been focused on the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe an off-shore Venezuelan gas rig sank.

Let’s be very clear about this. There is no near term alternative to oil for use as a vehicle fuel. Saying anything else is either a delusion or a lie. There are dozens of reasons for this but the simplest is that it takes twenty years to turn over the entire U. S. vehicle fleet and trying to do it much quicker is beyond our means at least under present economic conditions.

But we should start taking serious steps to wean ourselves from the use of oil in vehicle fuels. Those steps could include greater emphasis on high-efficiency diesel engines, elimination of limitations on liability for oil producers (which I consider a scandal and an outrage as well as crappy economic policy), a carbon tax, and reduced subsidies for new highway construction.

You can find more detail on our oil imports here.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Africa, Asia, Environment, , , , , , , , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    I admit to having never been much of an environmentalist. But it really is past time to do something about oil. We’re fighting wars in part for oil, we’re threatened by enemies who are financed by oil, we’re spreading pollution far and wide, and really it’s time to start a serious push to immediately limit the use of oil and move toward long term technological solutions.

  2. John Personna says:

    While there is no alternative to oil use, there are alternatives to oil uses.

    I watched a video recently, just a Dutch intersection, with bike commuters. Know what was missing? Fat people. Zero.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Are you aware of how small the Netherlands is, JP? It’s significant. We have counties that are larger than the entire country.

    That’s why I mentioned ending subsidies for new highway construction. Our current policies subsidize sprawl which subsidizes oil consumption.

  4. John Personna says:

    Do we need to travel across our respective countries,or to work?

    I’ve read that half of all American workers have a commute of five miles or less. There no particular reason work or shopping trips should be related to country size. They’d be more related to median urbanization.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    I’d be interested in seeing where you get your information, JP. According to the DOT, the average commute is now around 12 miles and has been over 8 miles for 30 years. Or said, another way, for many people in the United States commuting to work is commuting across the county.

    I’ve lived and worked in Germany. I walked to work and could do that year ’round. There’s no country other than Russia with weather as intemperate as that of the U. S. A 12 mile commute by bicycle in Minneapolis in January is no joke. Or in Phoenix in July.

  6. anjin-san says:

    Half the people in this country don’t want to look further than our own backyard. If they actually look at how we have outsourced pollution, they won’t be able to maintain the fiction that man-made damage to the environment is getting better, not worse.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    Not just the country, anjin-san, but the world. All of the EU’s reductions in the production of greenhouse gases since the signing of the Kyoto Agreement can be attributed to offshoring European manufacturing in China. Once it’s in China it becomes invisible and intractable.

  8. John Personna says:

    Hard to copy-paste from a PDF with a phone, but when I googled “commute five miles” the top link was a bicycling study with that claim. Note also that both can be true. Half can travel 5 and people traveling 50 can pull the average up. It’s a place where median is more illustrative.

    On weather, check out Danish commuting, weather, and health.

    We make too many excuses, which wouldn’t be bad if we weren’t getting fatter and more car dependent at the same time.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    Low temperature in January in Denmark: 25F

    Low temperature in January in Chicago: 15F

    Low temperature in January in Minneapolis: 4F

    And then there’s the windchill. Europe really doesn’t compare in that regard.

    I agree that a lot more people who live in places like St. Louis or Raleigh-Durham should be cycling or walking to work. The weather is pleasant 9 months out of the year. It’s a lot harder in much of the U. S.

    Los Angeles? More people could commute by bike or walk except for the enormous commuting distances. And without the sprawl the economy of California would have collapsed a generation ago.

    My point is that the United States is a big country and that we shouldn’t expect simple solutions. One size won’t fit all. Nor should we expect our problems to be solved overnight. It shouldn’t stop us from moving in the right direction.

  10. Eric Florack says:

    I’ve said this before, and I will say it again; if the socialist left currently occupying the White House had any thoughts in mind about stirring up anti oil hatreds, they could hardly have orchestrated it better than their actions have done so far.

    So, is the White House response to this issue incompetence or is it intentional exacerbation ?

  11. john personna says:

    Dave, I want to remind you of where I started:

    “While there is no alternative to oil use, there are alternatives to oil uses.”

    The idea was that while no, we can’t stop using oil in total any time soon, we can chip away, where uses have alternatives. That set of temperatures really battle the position I never took, that we had alternatives to oil use.

    And I’d note that today in Chicago it is 89°F, and I’m sure people are cycling.

    Really I think your intransigence says something about why will be stuck on oil too. It isn’t that we can’t ride a bike now and then. It’s that we don’t want to consider riding a bike now and then. We put up great walls of seeming logic against it.

    On this:

    My point is that the United States is a big country and that we shouldn’t expect simple solutions. One size won’t fit all. Nor should we expect our problems to be solved overnight. It shouldn’t stop us from moving in the right direction.

    Too bad that was where I started, and you that you had some deep need to fight it.

  12. anjin-san says:

    I’ve said this before, and I will say it again

    Which pretty much guarantees that it is utter BS.

    We all know you are a pretty bright guy bit. It’s clear that the nonsense you write is just your attempt to establish bona fides as a right wing nut job media figure.

    Or possibly you have suffered a severe blow to the head that we don’t know about and actually believe this childish nonsense…

  13. anjin-san says:

    So, is the White House response to this issue incompetence or is it intentional exacerbation

    We have heard a lot of hot air like this from the right, but there is no meat on the bone. Please tell us exactly what steps Obama should have taken in response to this disaster that he has failed move on.

  14. PD Shaw says:

    Typical progressive policy proposal:

    I (bike / don’t eat at McDonald’s / went to college / live in a hip studio apartment) (pick one)

    Everybody should.

    We’ll start with moral suasion (name-calling)

    Once we have a majority doing it, we’ll mandate it.

  15. PD Shaw says:


    Those steps could include greater emphasis on high-efficiency diesel engines,

    I’m not sure what this means other than possibly adopting European style subsidies (IIRC European fuel taxes advantage diesel). I support a fuel tax.

    elimination of limitations on liability for oil producers (which I consider a scandal and an outrage as well as crappy economic policy)


    I disagree. As I pointed out on your blog, the gas companies were made liable for a class of damages that no other business/industry/individual is liable for and that unique liability was capped. I support the compromise; we can dicker about the size of the cap. But if you remove the cap, you are encouraging the Nigerian scenario you are concerned about.

    a carbon tax,


    and reduced subsidies for new highway construction.

    I’m not sure what this means, but I believe that federal subsidies for highway construction should more align with national interests. I think we rely too much on the notion that if the states and local government are willing to pony up money, that federal interests are advanced.

  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    We designed and built our lives around the car. Europeans for the most part live in urban areas that were designed first for pedestrians and horses, and later adapted for mass transit. Cars came late to the scene for them and their cities make an uneasy peace with cars.

    Very few Americans have meaningful access to mass transit, and even fewer can use a bicycle to commute. Motorcycles would be a more realistic alternative — they can cover distance quickly while sipping fuel. And they can carry a few groceries. And of course the supply of donor organs would skyrocket.

    But nothing as unrealistic as bicycles or as suicidal as motorcycles is necessary. We could move to diesel and cut our oil consumption in half. Likewise hybrids. No new technological breakthrough is required. No revolution is required. Tax gas. Tax diesel less than gasoline and escalate the difference as people begin to adapt.

  17. just me says:

    I could easily bicycle to work, the problem for me is tied up more in having kids-and getting them from point A to point B as well, and while I could probably fit groceries for myself on a bicycle, I can’t fit groceries for a family of 6 on one and the closest grocery store is about 8 miles from my home.

    Rural living is just different.

    Also, it isn’t just temperature that is the problem in the Northern US, but the snowfall. There is no way I could bike my way to work in January even if the temperature was relatively doable, because there isn’t really a safe path to ride my bike in the snow.

    I do think there are ways to use less oil though. One thing we do in the summer is my husband rides his motorcycle (still uses oil, but less gas than a car of any size) to go to work (and he has a job where he has to travel fairly large distances-his work is close, but some of his jobs are over an hour from where he works).

    I think it is easy to say “just ride a bike to work” but it isn’t always feasible, especially in rural areas (there are parts of my state where groceries are a good hour or so away) and especially in rural areas that tend to be very cold with high snowfall.

  18. Dave Schuler says:

    Well, lots of luck with your plan, JP. My guess is that we might be able to encourage an additional 10% of the people with the shortest commutes in the regions of the country most favorable to it to ditch their cars in favor of cycling or walking. What will we get from that? Less than 1% reduction?

    Just for the record I work full time and travel less than 100 miles a month for work. That’s strategic. I’ve made choices and sacrifices in my career to achieve that. But go ahead, blame all of the problems on the country on my intransigence.

    How much do you travel for business purposes? Commuting, etc.

  19. PD Shaw says:

    I remember sitting around discussing the need for a higher fuel tax where I work and an embarrassing realization hit me as lines of agreement and disagreement were expressed. The more highly compensated were indeed living within odograph’s fictitious five-mile commute; those making less were commuting farther to take advantage of schools and lower housing prices.

    Michael’s right, many of our cities were built on cars, but I would emphasize that access to transportation to take advantage of schools, work and stores is very important for the working class, who can’t opt out of the neighborhood school, afford Trader Joe’s or work out of home when it pleases them.

    And it seems to me that use of alternative fuel-saving vehicles like motorcycles is more consistent with planning for households to have multiple cars purposed differently. That does not seem to be the road we are heading down (CAFE).

  20. john personna says:

    The thing that annoyed me, with the whole “sometimes it’s 15F in Chicago” thing is that you are trying to hold the line against anyone biking.

    PD says “everyone should” is another example of the straw-man.


    And then Dave thinks he’s got control of the argument again with “My guess is that we might be able to encourage an additional 10% of the people with the shortest commutes in the regions of the country most favorable to it to ditch their cars in favor of cycling or walking.”


    Even if I accepted that number, would the fact that “only” 10% of us (millions of people) could be healthier and happier mean that no one should?

    I never said everyone should bike. I never said I never do. But you guys have got some weird psychology here, trying to hold the line.

    It almost seems that you worry there is a label on you, like “biker” or “driver” and you have to be one or the other? You don’t get that it’s about “trip replacement?” Someone riding a bike on a nice day is a trip replacement. It doesn’t mean they can never get in their car again. Jeez.

  21. john personna says:

    BTW, a number of cities have initiatives to be bike friendly, to make those “trip replacements” easier, happier, and safer. To say that “we can’t because we already have cars” is another WTF.

  22. john personna says:

    BTW2, if we are actually going to reduce oil dependence, it will be by chipping away at the problem on mulitple fronts … something impossible if everyone is out to hold the line.

  23. john personna says:

    BTW3, here is the original video:

    Fit people, and surprising from the “American fears” perspective, no helmets.

  24. Eric Florack says:

    We have heard a lot of hot air like this from the right, but there is no meat on the bone. Please tell us exactly what steps Obama should have taken in response to this disaster that he has failed move on.


    perhaps the first question that should be addressed is the connections between Rahm Emanuel and British petroleum.

    That said, I seem to recall similar questions being asked as regards to Katrina. The noises that the Obama administration is now making are remarkably similar to what the Bush administration was saying back in the day. You didn’t accept it from Bush then, why do you accept it from Obama and company now to the point of spreading it around, yourself?

    as for there being no meat on the bone, allow me to remind you of a phrase which has become somewhat hackneyed these days; “Never wasted good crisis. “Could this attitude explain why the response from the white house has been so slow on the matter? Or are they merely covering their own corruption and incompetence?

  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    john p:

    Do you happen to have kids? Because the reality of having small children in the home makes the idea of extensive use of bicycles fairly ridiculous, not to mention dangerous.

    Bikers are a menace to themselves and others. I can’t even count the number of times my own action as a driver as been required to save the life of some fool biker.

    At the same time we’re armoring our cars with airbags, crumple zones and safety cages, bikers are running stop signs and weaving through rows of 4,000 pound cars protected by what amounts to a styrofoam coffee cup stuck on their heads.

    Even here in flat and temperate Irvine shopping for groceries for a family with kids on a bike would add hours every week to the time spent. More and smaller shopping trips each of which will take longer. The odds that I or anyone else is going to take a chore that now may cost me two hours a week and turn it into a chore that takes seven hours a week is nil.

    Yesterday my various work and kid-related chores took me to Costco, World Market, Best Buy and Total Wine. Had I tried to pull that off by bike I’d have had to allow for an overnight stay. And a babysitter.

  26. john personna says:

    You know, I should have remembered much earlier in this thread that people who use mixed modes of transportation (walking, biking, driving) see things differently than those who identify with just one. That’s why it took me a while to figure it out and remind you that this is about trip replacement, just where it works, and for people for whom it works.

    Michael, you seem a fairly bright guy. Can you see that your whole comment did not engage with that? Worse, you illustrate the classic tribalism. For you, bikers are “the other” and any “fool” brands the whole group.

    You especially should meditate on that.

    (FWIW I just went for a drive. In that time I saw maybe a few thousand cars, and maybe a hundred bicyclists. Some were commuter riders. Some were fitness riders. Some were recreational riders. Some were even whole families with kids(!). Everyone seemed to be having a good day, and I didn’t feel the need to get angry at any group. I mean, my goodness. I was in Irvine … I wonder which of those cars were carrying smoldering bike bigots?)

  27. john personna says:
  28. anjin-san says:

    perhaps the first question that should be addressed is the connections between Rahm Emanuel and British petroleum.

    If you have proof Emanuel has done something improper, lets here it. If it is credible, I will be happy to call for his resignation.

    Or are they merely covering their own corruption and incompetence?

    Again, lets see some evidence of corruption and incompetence. You are just producing more hot air to add to your already ample supply. You always were kind of an empty suit…

  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    John P:

    Well, I appreciate being labeled fairly bright.

    My point was that in the real world there aren’t a lot of trips that could be replaced by bikes. In fact I think it’s disappearingly small.

    We of course have a lot of bike people in Irvine, the weather is congenial as is the topography as is the complete lack of serious congestion. But I don’t see bikers replacing car trips. I see bikers in full regalia riding for pleasure. None are carrying groceries, or kids, or anything that signals they are doing anything other than getting exercise while running stop signs. I certainly don’t see them out during the commuting hours. So even in this most congenial of environments bikers are having fun (good for them) but not doing anything significant to reduce oil dependency.

  30. john personna says:

    The 33% of trips in The Netherlands strike me as a demonstration of what could be done, when people care. That country is as flat as Irvine, with of course worse weather.

    Have you noticed that there is a simple way to predict which countries will care and which won’t?

    It’s easy. Look at the percentage of oil produced domestically. The Dutch or Danish (traditional importers, the North Sea boom years aside) ride bikes. On the other end of the spectrum, the Iranians subsidize gasoline to make sure the poorest can drive.

    We have a schizo view. We remember when we produced all of our own oil, and still have that drive, drive, drive mentality. But each year the level of imports rise and we become, bit by bit, like the northern Europeans.

    And yet it’s funny, isn’t it? People you wouldn’t suspect of irrational conservatism find common cause to hold the line, not just to say they can’t ride, but to try to keep other people off bikes. This is not 1970. California and Texas aren’t producing all the oil we need. And yet so many policies pretend they do.

    (The pretense is important. You heard why that German guy lost his job, right?)

  31. john personna says:

    BTW, as someone who drives and rides, I think I have a more nuanced view of situational safety, and less of an impulse to form lasting prejudices.

    I remember when I was trying to log more miles by bike, and had to take a section down PCH through Laguna. I observed to friends at the other end “only 1 in 10 cars was trying to kill me” and “usually Cadillac SUVs”

    But you know, since I drive too I didn’t fall into that thing, and say “all automobile drivers are Cadillac SUV driving fools!”

  32. john personna says:

    BTW2, it has been a while since I dug into the “deaths per million miles” for bikes, but my recollection is that most sadly are children and teens. They are the risk takers. They do the scariest things, like riding where no one expects them (on the wrong side of the road or fast on the sidewalk) and then roll into intersections, or into intersections with a quck turn in an unexpected direction.

    Those kids have scared me when I’m in my car too. But of course since I ride too I don’t fall into that human trap of making them a tribe. Worse, and enemy tribe.

  33. john personna says:

    BTW3, I was flipping channels last night, and some show was on about American obesity.

    They had most preposterous thing … treadmills set up under desks so that people could walk and work at the same time. They claimed that several companies were testing the things.

    Is that American, or what? Drive your fat ass to work, and then get on a special treadmill desk to work. Does it come with “pizza in a cup?”

  34. Michael Reynolds says:

    Wait, they make pizza in a cup? Where can I get me some of that?