News & AnalysisNigeria

Landmark Study Reveals an Oil Quagmire

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Science  12 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6044, pp. 809
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6044.809

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Last week, the United Nations Environment Programme reported that oil pollution in Nigeria's oil-rich and politically volatile Ogoniland coastal region has "penetrated further and deeper than many have supposed" and called on industry and government to take "emergency measures" to protect residents from dangerously contaminated water supplies. It will take at least $1 billion and 30 years to restore mangrove forests smothered by slicks and soils soaked in sludge, the researchers estimate, potentially making Ogoniland one of the world's biggest cleanup projects. And they conclude that responsibility for the continuing spills is shared by oil companies, which have failed to maintain facilities, and local oil thieves who puncture pipelines and hijack wells. The sobering findings, however, don't appear to have dampened a long-running conflict over who is most to blame—and who should pay for the cleanup.

  • * With reporting by Natalie Villacorta and Erik Stokstad.