The Africa Progress Report 2013 presented at the World Economic Forum on Africa created quite a media buzz. With its focus on natural resources — the extractive industries in particular — the report describes a continent “on the edge of enormous opportunity”:
Over the past decade, Africa’s economies have been riding the crest of a global commodity wave. Extractive industries have emerged as a powerful engine of economic growth. Surging demand for natural resources in China and other emerging markets has pushed export prices to new highs – and the boom shows no sign of abating. Africa’s petroleum, gas and mineral resources have become a powerful magnet for foreign investment. With new exploration revealing much larger reserves than were previously known, Africa stands to reap a natural resource windfall.
The challenge facing the region’s governments is to convert the temporary windfall into a permanent breakthrough in human development. Effective and equitable stewardship of Africa’s natural resource wealth could transform the region.
The report, Equity in Extractives, and more, are available on the Africa Progress Panel website.
Al Jazeera English is one of the few news organizations in the U.S. keeping the Deepwater Horizon story alive. While others have forgotten the disaster, Al Jazeera has broadcast a number of stories on the ongoing environmental problems in the Gulf of Mexico. The mess that oil made recently aired on Inside Story Americas.
The Huffington Post also featured an article by David Kirby on the Corexit scandal, Corexit, Oil Dispersant Used By BP, Is Destroying Gulf Marine Life, Scientists Say.
BP’s negligence prior to the Deepwater Horizon has been reported extensively. But had this accident occurred on land it could have been contained much more quickly. Today oil companies are after oil that’s harder and more dangerous to drill. Disaster response technology has not kept up and one can only when the next disaster will occur. A new article published in The Atlantic and Mother Jones, What if we never run out of oil?, describes the latest efforts to get at frozen gas miles under the ocean surface. A miracle — and a nightmare — writes author, Charles Mann. Indeed.
What BP Doesn’t Want You to Know about the Gulf Spill is a new article by Mark Hertsgaard, and if you have ever wondered how the largest single, accidental oil spill in the world just vanished, don’t miss this story. It is an absolutely shocking recounting of BP’s massive, reckless use of the highly toxic dispersant, Corexit, which effectively “disappeared” much of the spilled oil and in the process caused untold damage to clean-up workers’ health and the ecosystem.
Three years after the spill, Herstgaard writes, the disaster has been largely forgotten. “Such collective amnesia may seem surprising,” he continues, “but there may be a good explanation for it: BP mounted a cover-up that concealed the full extent of its crimes from public view. This cover-up prevented the media and therefore the public from knowing — and above all, seeing — just how much oil was gushing into the gulf. The disaster appeared much less extensive and destructive than it actually was. BP declined to comment for this article.”
Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the Kiobel v. Shell case, limiting the courts’ ability to hear claims of human rights abuses committed abroad.
Lawrence Hurley of Reuters calls the disappointing decision, “a major victory for multinational companies,” adding that “the ruling is a major win for multinationals such as Royal Dutch that do business in the developing world and become embroiled in local political controversies.
“Those companies, which are still subject to lawsuits in foreign courts, fear U.S. courts because of the possibility of large damage awards,” Hurley writes. He goes on to note that, “The ruling is likely to affect other cases, including those involving similar claims against Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto Plc over its conduct in Papua New Guinea; Exxon Mobil Corp over its activity in Indonesia; and Daimler AG concerning alleged abuses in Argentina. The companies have all vigorously contested the claims.”
In its press release, the organization writes, “Today in its decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the Supreme Court gutted the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a law that has been on the books for more than 200 years and for the last 30 years has been a critical avenue to hold serious human rights violators accountable. In a decision that will undermine the United States’ status as a leader on human rights, the Justices unanimously decided that the victims of the gross human rights violations alleged in this case were not entitled to relief under the ATS. Furthermore, a majority of the Court ruled more broadly that the ATS does not apply to human rights violations committed in other countries.
That’s the title of a new report released today by conservation group, Oceana. The report, which focuses on U.S. oil exploration, shows, “that marine life and coastal economies along the Atlantic Ocean are threatened by seismic airguns used in testing for offshore oil and gas. The United States government itself estimates that the use of seismic airguns along the East Coast – an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida – will injure and possibly kill 138,500 whales and dolphins, and disturb necessary activities for millions more.”
Seismic testing doesn’t just happen in U.S. waters. Read Seismic tests enrage ecowarriors about environmentalists’ outrage when South African authorities admitted that “preliminary seismic tests had been ‘quietly’ conducted between the Port Elizabeth and Jeffreys Bay shorelines two weeks ago.”
More on South African drilling prospects (from an industry perspective) from Offshore magazine: Deepwater drilling on the way off South Africa
Greenpeace was already raising the alarm on the dangers of seismic testing ten years ago. But alas, the rate of offshore exploration has only grown since.
“This may be the week that the Supreme Court finally issues a decision in the landmark Alien Tort Statute case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum,” international law expert John Bellinger wrote on March 24th. “Whether or not a decision is issued this week,” he adds, “most Kiobel watchers believe that the Court will rule in favor of Shell. But on what basis?”
He goes on to outline various legal theories that may persuade the judges (and leave human rights activists discouraged). Read the post here: Will the Supreme Court Issue a Decision in Kiobel This Week?
We’re still waiting for the decision and in the meantime I’m posting an opinion piece by Lauren Carasik, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Western New England University School of Law. This piece originally appeared on the Al Jazeera website. I’m posting the article in its entirety below as it gives a good overview of this case and the larger issue of transnational corporate liability for human rights abuses.
Indeed, as the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) writes in its overview of the Kiobel case, “The stakes are extremely high because the ATS is the only avenue for most human rights victims to hold perpetrators accountable. In the home countries of many victims, there is no legal forum available to seek justice. The Supreme Court is considering removing the U.S. as their last resort.
Exxon Mobil pipeline problems are back in the news and this time it’s in Arkansas.
From InsideClimate News: A pipeline that ruptured and leaked at least 80,000 gallons of oil into central Arkansas on Friday was transporting a heavy form of crude from the Canadian tar sands region, ExxonMobil told InsideClimate News.
Local police said the line gushed oil for 45 minutes before being stopped, according to media reports.
Crude oil ran through a subdivision of Mayflower, Ark., about 20 miles north of Little Rock. Twenty-two homes were evacuated, but no one was hospitalized, Exxon spokesman Charlie Engelmann said on Saturday.
In an interview with InsideClimate News, Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson said emergency crews prevented the oil from entering waterways. The judge issued an emergency declaration following the spill and is involved in coordinating clean-up efforts among federal, state and local agencies and Exxon.
“The U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday hit Exxon Mobil Corp. with a $1.7 million fine over a July 2011 pipeline failure that dumped more than 60,000 gallons of oil into Montana’s Yellowstone River after concluding the oil giant failed to effectively address pipeline safety risks,” writes Sean McLernon in the March 26th edition of Law360.
According to a news release from the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), “ExxonMobil failed to properly address known seasonal flooding risks to the safety of its pipeline system, including excessive river scour and erosion, and to implement measures that would have mitigated a spill into a waterway.”
I wrote about the Yellowstone River spill in September 2011 asking what lessons the Montana accident might have for Cameroon. To recap what I said then, environmentalists in Cameroon and Chad have long been concerned about the safety of the 1070 km Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline and have stated repeatedly that COTCO (Exxon Mobil pipeline operations in Cameroon) has not provided reliable information about its real capacity to respond in the event of an oil spill. Much of the pipeline crosses relatively remote and hard-to-access areas (few or no roads) and many question COTCO’s assertions that response teams could quickly travel to the scene of any incident.
What happens next in Central African Republic is anyone’s guess, but Chad is likely to remain an important player in CAR politics.
Chad’s president Idriss Deby “lost patience” with Francois Bozize, as RFI reports, and along with Francois Hollande, ignored Bozize’s last calls for support. RFI asks why Deby, who helped bring Bozize to power a decade ago, recently turned against him. Read the RFI story, Centrafrique: Bozizé lâché par Déby, ignoré par Hollande. My translation/summary:
Deby’s entourage says the Chadian president was simply tired of dealing with Bozize. In May 2012 Deby went to Bangui and publicly called on Bozize to dialogue with the opposition. That was a sign of the tension already existing between the two heads of state.
In private, Idriss Deby reportedly asked Bozize to drop his plan to modify the constitution so that he could run for a third term…. Bozize had hard time accepting this advice from Deby who, himself, had modified the constitution of Chad to stay in power.
Nigeria is experiencing difficulties selling its crude oil, but imports most of its refined oil products. No, that is not a mistake.
Nigeria Bearing Brunt of U.S. Shale Oil Boom is the title of a recent Wall Street Journal article. As the title suggests, increased domestic production in the U.S. has had a serious impact on Nigerian oil sales:
Exports of Nigerian oil to the U.S. almost halved between 2011 and 2012, according to (U.S. Energy Information Administration) data. In the late 2000s, Nigeria regularly shipped around one million barrels a day of crude to the U.S., but last year that number was just 405,000 barrels a day.
Other members of OPEC have also been affected. Exports from both Angola and Algeria fell more than 30% last year. But the impact has been the most severe in Nigeria, which has historically sent the bulk of its oil exports to the U.S., and the country has been forced to react.
While debate continues in the Western press over Idriss Deby Itno’s claim that Abou Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar are dead, news from Chad suggests there’s little support for Deby’s decision to send Chadian soldiers to Mali. Al Jazeera reports that, “Many in Chad are sceptical of Mali offensive.”
La Nouvelle Expression in Cameroon writes that Deby’s military move is an attempt by an old putchist to improve his image. Deby’s country is paying a heavy price, La Nouvelle Expression writes, but Deby accepts it courageously. For Chadian blogger Makaila the losers in Mali are the people of Chad. “Que toute l’opposition tchadienne se taise car désormais, Hollande, Obama et les autres, ne jureront que par (Deby).” (The Chadian opposition should shut up because from now on Hollande, Obama and the others will only swear by Deby.)
How many more jihadists and Chadian fighters need to die before all of Deby’s past sins are forgiven?
I’m catching up on news and have come across another recent article about East Africa’s oil and gas development. Avoiding the Resource Curse in East Africa’s Oil and Natural Gas Boom, draws attention to a fundamental problem with oil and gas development across Africa: minimal job creation and little or no increase in power (electricity).
Can any government really call oil a “blessing” if it doesn’t bring employment and power to the population?
The author, Jill Shankleman, is a senior scholar at the Wilson Center and former senior social and environmental specialist at the World Bank. ”Up to now,” she writes, “oil companies and governments in developing countries have worked on a narrow model of economic benefit. Oil companies produce oil (and gas) for export. The government gets a hefty share of the profit in the form of taxes and product. To a greater or (often) lesser degree, efforts are then made to open up employment and supply chain opportunities locally.
“Where this model applies in West Africa, it is typical to find huge, state-of-the-art oil and gas export facilities sitting alongside communities where people live in houses without electricity. People like me who are involved in community consultations always hear the same thing when we speak with locals: ‘Where are the jobs? And why are we living in darkness next to this place which is stealing our oil?’”
Tom Rhodes, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ East Africa Consultant, has written an interesting story on the secrecy surrounding oil development in Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan. Rhodes writes that the inability of journalists to access information and report on contract deals and resource allocation greatly increases the risks for corruption and environmental degradation. Last year I wrote a post on Tullow Oil’s secret deals in Uganda, contrasting that situation to Tullow’s much more transparent operations in Ghana.
After I published that story a Tullow Oil representative contacted me and explained that Tullow’s practices were dictated by local governments. Tullow can be transparent in Ghana because the government wants to be transparent. In Uganda, the official told me, the government does not want contract information published.
Limbe, in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, is a gem. A coastal city famous for its black sand beaches, Limbe is located on the southern slopes of Mount Cameroon, one of Africa’s largest active volcanoes. The town is surrounded by lush forest and is home to the Limbe Botanic Garden, a 48-hectare expanse of majestic greenery bordering the Atlantic.
The Limbe Wildlife Centre is another one of the city’s attractions. The center was founded in the early 1990s as a rescue and rehabilitation center for orphaned primates. The first time I visited the center it was an open space. I’ll never forget the gorilla who stood on two legs and walked straight up to me as if he wanted to say something. Amazing. Today, the center is divided up into compounds and feels more like a zoo, but it’s still a great place to visit and marvel the biodiversity of this country.
But there’s more to Limbe than beautiful scenery.
Last week’s Dutch court ruling in the case brought by four Nigerian farmers against Shell for oil pollution damage is being reported as a “victory” for both the plaintiffs and for Shell.
So, who really won? It depends how you look at things. Live Wire, Amnesty International’s blog, has a an excellent summary of the case and the ongoing challenges facing those who want Shell to clean up its mess in the Niger Delta. The court ruled in favor of one plaintiff and that is significant. Shell will have to pay compensation to the farmer and, according to Amnesty International, “This week’s ruling means Shell can no longer point to sabotage as if the company has no responsibility for this problem, and it should have wider ramifications for Shell’s Nigeria operations.”
A partial victory for plaintiffs in Nigeria may open the door to further legal action against Shell. From Reuters:
By Ivana Sekularac and Anthony Deutsch
THE HAGUE | Wed Jan 30, 2013 8:06am EST
(Reuters) – A Dutch court ruled on Wednesday that Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary was responsible for a case of oil pollution in the Niger Delta and ordered it to pay damages in a decision that could open the door to further litigation.
The district court in The Hague said Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd. (SPDC), a wholly-owned subsidiary, must compensate one farmer, but dismissed four other claims filed against the Dutch parent company.
Four Nigerians and campaign group Friends of the Earth filed suits in 2008 in The Hague, where Shell has its global headquarters, seeking reparations for lost income from contaminated land and waterways in the Niger Delta region, the heart of the Nigerian oil industry.
The case was seen by environmental activists as a test for holding multinationals responsible for offences at foreign subsidiaries, and legal experts said other Nigerians affected by pollution might now be able to sue in the Netherlands.
While working in Ghana last year, I learned that an unusually high number of dead whales had washed ashore since the start of oil drilling. I talked to several local environmentalists who feared the deaths were connected to the country’s oil industry but had no resources to investigate. Without offering any details or study results, the Ghana EPA declared the whale deaths were unrelated to the oil industry.
Although there had been no significant oil spills in Ghana, another form of pollution, which may have played a role in the whale deaths, was ongoing yet invisible: Noise pollution. Shipping and drilling are two known causes of significant underwater noise. Noise pollution – especially when it’s below the ocean surface — doesn’t get much attention. But as a recent article in the New York Times points out, the world’s oceans are increasingly noisy and the impact on marine life, mammals in particular, may be devastating:
Obama 2012 is not Obama 2008. Divided U.S. Gives Obama More Time, says the New York Times in an article about his “narrow victory”. Early this morning Obama told the crowds in Chicago that “the best is yet to come,” but we all know that — even with the best of intentions — he faces a bitterly divided government, a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the toxic influence of corporate money on U.S. politics.
But keeping the Romney-Republican agenda out of the White House is significant. Romney had promised to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial reform that includes the important sections 1502 and 1504 that address the use of conflict minerals and oil and gas transparency, respectively. Sections 1502 and 1504 have already helped advanced similar legislation in Europe. And Romney repeatedly attacked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and pledged to undo coal and fuel-economy regulation.
Forget the hope and change stuff, forget your disappointment with Obama — it’s time to get real.
For those in the U.S. who are not going to vote because they’re disillusioned or believe they must take a stand and vote for the Greens, this is the moment to swallow the bitter pill of realpolitik. Third party votes to the left of Obama will help Romney. Not voting will help Romney.
Go to the polls, cast your vote for Obama and then pledge to start fighting for real change on November 7th.
Obama and Romney have been competing for the title of “Fossil Fuels’ Best Friend,” but it’s not really a contest. The GOP has repeatedly shown it’s the party of deregulation, climate change denial and Big Oil. The Democrats may not be much better, but at this point we have to take what we can get and go from there.
African oil news today looks pretty much like any other day: a new paper from the European Centre for Development Policy Management warns that Africa must diversify to save itself from the resource curse. Nigeria is losing $1 billion a month to oil theft. The drilling race in East Africa is amping up and more gas is discovered in Mozambique. Meanwhile heavy flooding has wreaked havoc across West Africa, adding to the list of global extreme weather events.
There’s such a disconnect now between oil and weather stories that one could almost conclude that oil drilling and climate change are unrelated. But fossil fuel extraction and consumption have both immediate and long-term impacts on the the environment and those impacts are amplified across Africa. Most African countries are ill-prepared to deal with both oil spills and extreme weather events. And droughts, floods, coastal erosion and rising food prices will hit poor countries the hardest. Despite all this, there are only a few lonely voices calling to “leave oil in the soil.”
Greenpeace has obtained a cache of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) documents and photographs that suggest U.S. government officials kept information from the public in an attempt to downplay the environmental damage of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.
On June 15, 2010, NOAA crew aboard the research vessel, Pisces, spotted a dead sperm whale floating in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the Guardian, “NOAA did put out a press release about the dead whale. However, the release was edited and shortened in a way which appeared to minimise the effects of oil on whales.” The press coverage of the whale spotting was limited and it appears now that may have been the objective of U.S. officials.
If you’re a reporter, student or activist looking for sources of information on the oil industry or wondering how you can work with data available from the World Bank and other organizations, there’s a new handbook out that you will certainly appreciate. It’s called, Exploring Oil Data, A Reporter’s Handbook, and you can download it from the Open Oil website. As someone who spends a lot of time sifting through (and trying to get my head around) data and searching dozens of websites for information that no oil companies willingly share, I was excited to find so many sources gathered together in one location. I was also thrilled to see my blog here at Pipe(line) Dreams listed as one of the “Top Ten Blogs”.
“For the first time in history, a European company, Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shall, has been brought to court in The Netherlands for damages it caused abroad. The plaintiffs are four Nigerians whose livelihoods and communities have been massively impacted by Shell’s operations.” From Friends of the Earth International. Read more and watch video here.
“If their case is successful it could pave the way for thousands of other compensation claims, says the BBC’s Anna Holligan in The Hague.” From the BBC. Read the full coverage of the day in court here.
Mother Jones magazine has published, Did ExxonMobil Pay Torturers?, by Ian T. Shearn and Laird Townsend. The article details ExxonMobil’s possible involvement in human rights abuses in Indonesia and the victims’ decade-long struggle for justice.
“In June 2001,” the authors write, “John Doe III and 10 other civilian neighbors of ExxonMobil’s Arun natural gas facility filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil in federal district court in Washington, DC. In John Doe v. ExxonMobil, the villagers charge the company with complicity in torture, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by Indonesian soldiers it hired to provide security.”