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The Charleston Gazette: Ravaged

Oil drilling damage
January 29, 2007 
 
As world energy needs soar, ravages by industries seeking fossil fuels are inescapable. West Virginia’s mountaintop removal mining is a well-known example.

Similarly, the February National Geographic paints a stark portrait of how Nigeria’s addiction to cash from oil kills environmental treasures and impoverishes native peoples.

Nigeria’s abundant oil resources might have made that West African nation a model of progress. With 130 million residents, Nigeria is Africa’s largest country. Its oil resources are greater than those of the United States and Mexico combined. Today, oil generates 95 percent of Nigeria’s export earnings.

For 50 years, oil extraction from the Niger Delta’s once-beautiful coastal forests and marshes has made Big Oil and local elites wealthier. But efforts to protect the environment and local communities have been almost nonexistent.

And since oil began flowing, native peoples have suffered increasing poverty, violence and hopelessness, writes Tom O’Neill in “Curse of the Black Gold: Hope and Betrayal in the Niger Delta.”

Five oil companies dominate Nigerian oil production: Royal Dutch Shell, Total (France), Agip (Italy), ExxonMobil and Chevron. Once-prosperous farming and fishing communities, which formerly generated jobs and incomes for local residents, have been destroyed by oil.

“Between 1986 and 2003,” O’Neill writes, “more than 50,000 acres of mangroves disappeared from the coast, largely because of land clearing and canal dredging for oil and gas exploration.” He said irresponsible energy exploration is destroying beautiful trees, fish, marshes and the lives of millions of poorer natives.

Patrick Amaopusanibo, a retired businessman who became a farmer, told O’Neill: “Everyone was sure they would be blessed with the coming of the black gold. … But we have nothing. I feel cheated.”

Maybe his words echo the feelings of some Southern West Virginians who gain nothing from coal extraction surrounding them.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush urged greater vehicle fuel efficiency and development of alternative energy, to reduce America’s dependency on fossil fuels. But experts aren’t sure that government changes can produce enough gasoline from other sources. “Where might 20 billion alternative-fuel gallons come from?” The Washington Post asked. It added:

“Bush’s alternative fuel standard could open the door to oil derived from coal — an option that’s known to work but that would be far worse for global warming than burning traditional gasoline.”

We don’t know if the planet’s rising energy need can be met by switching to new fuels. But any reduction in exploration — either rapacious drilling in Nigeria or mountain decapitation in Appalachia — would be a blessing to nature and local residents.

http://wvgazette.com/section/Opinion/200701285

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