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A Development Perspective on the Gulf's Big Spill

This is a joint posting with Julia Barmeier

The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is turning out to be the worst environmental disaster in United States history—we now know that as much as 40 million gallons of oil may end up in the Gulf, destroying wildlife and livelihoods, and taking years to clean up.

Spills of this magnitude are not new to the developing world. Take Nigeria, for example. Due to poor regulation and pervasive corruption, we do not know for certain how much oil has leaked into the Niger Delta region. In 2006, it was reported that 500 million gallons of oil—a quantity not that different from the new estimates of the Gulf leak --has been spilt in the Delta over the past 50 years. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corp estimates that some 650,000 gallons of oil were spilled in 300 separate incidents each year; other reports indicate that Shell (which is now looking to drill in the Arctic) spilled nearly 4.5 million gallons of oil into the Niger Delta in the last year alone.