The fossil fuel industry faces a reckoning in the Niger Delta after a disaster left families ‘eating, drinking, breathing the oil’

On 10 October 2004, Eric Dooh received an urgent call from one of his father’s employees: the waterway surrounding their houses was running black with oil. Near the outskirts of Dooh’s village of Goi, a pipeline built by Royal Dutch Shell in the 1960s carried oil from inland Nigeria to an offshore terminal where it would be barreled and exported around the world. Dooh suspected the pipeline had sprung a leak. He attempted to alert the pipeline operator, but both Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary had largely abandoned oil operations in Goi a decade earlier in response to local uprisings. On that day, Shell’s community relations officer was unavailable, Dooh recalled. He reported the leak to a nearby police station instead, the Guardian reports.

It wasn’t until the next day that officials climbed onboard a helicopter, ascended over Dooh’s village situated on the banks of the Oroberekiri Creek in Nigeria’s southern Niger Delta region, and confirmed what villagers already knew: oil was spreading and not letting up.

Later that day, the situation in Goi went from bad to worse. Oil spilled into a local farmer’s house and connected with a cooking fire. The village, its oil-seeped creek and the surrounding mangrove forests erupted into flames.

Nearly 40 acres of mangrove forest surrounding the village of Goi were destroyed in the fire.

On 12 October a team of investigators – made up of locals, government officials, and employees for Shell’s Nigerian offshoot, Shell Petroleum Development Company – located the source of the leak: an 18-inch hole in an exposed portion of the pipeline. They temporarily plugged the split pipeline with wood chips and later sealed it with a clamp, but over the course of the three-day leak, the operators never shut off the flow of oil at its source. By then, more than 23,000 litres of oil had spilled and nearly 40 acres of mangrove forest had burned, poisoning the land and fishponds that were the lifeblood of the village.

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