While the Gulf oil spill was no doubt horrific, it’s nothing compared to what’s been going on in Nigeria for decades. In 2008, two Shell oil spills wiped out the entire community of Bodo, and for nearly 50 years prior to that, oil spills occurred with shocking regularity. After long denying responsibility for the massive 2008 spills, which sent 11 million gallons of crude oil into a region of the Niger Delta, Shell has finally taken responsibility for the disaster. A class action lawsuit was filed against the company, prompting them to admit that more than 275 times the amount of oil they reported was actually spilled. The U.N. has harshly criticized the oil company, and says that the region requires the world’s largest ever oil spill clean up which will take up to 30 years and cost potentially more than $1 billion.

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In 2008, two separate ruptures of the Bodo-Bonny trans-Niger pipeline spilled massive amounts of oil into a 20 square kilometer network of creeks in the Ogoniland region of Nigeria. Perhaps the most depressing part of this story, though, is that no attempt has ever been made to clean up the spilled oil. For three years, the black sheen has been a permanent fixture on Bodo’s swaps. Until a few days ago, Shell would only acknowledge that 40,000 gallons has spilled — a laughable amount compared to the reality.

Oil was first exported from the region in 1958, and smaller spills have been a regular occurrence since then. But the 2008 spills completely changed the lives of the 69,000 Bodo residents. Inhabitants first reported the oily sheen in August 2008, but Shell denies this, saying that a weld in the 50-year-old trans-Niger pipeline first broke in September. The line takes 120,000 barrels of oil a day at high speed across the Niger delta, and the spill was not stopped until November 7, 2008. By that time, as much as 2,000 barrels a day may have been sent directly into the water. Then in December, the same pipeline broke again, but this time, no expert was sent to examine the line until February of 2009.

The United National Environment Programme has analyzed the damage done by Shell in the Ogoniland region and their findings show that any remediation efforts or claims by Shell have been way below what’s acceptable. Even Shell’s own clean up procedures have not been applied. Because so many of the spills (UNEP estimates there to have been around 7,000 since 1989) have never been cleaned up, much of the oil has sunk deep into the ground, contaminating the water supply. In one community close to a pipeline studied by UNEP, drinking water was contaminated with benzene, a cancer-causing substance, at levels more than 900 times above the World Health Organization guidelines.

Activists have been trying to shed light on the truth of the situation in the Ogoniland region for decades, but because oil companies hold so much sway in politics and the economy, the public has had little knowledge of the severity of the problem. To find out how you can help the situation, visit Justice in Nigeria Now.

Via Treehugger