As the BP well in the Gulf of Mexico continues to spew thousands of barrels of oil each day, media attention has been focused on the toll on nearby economies and ecosystems and on the U.S. political response. On this edition of the Global Prosperity Wonkcast, we look beyond the Gulf of Mexico to explore what implications America’s biggest environmental disaster might hold for the new offshore oil boom getting underway in Africa.
My guests are Vijaya Ramachandran and Todd Moss, both senior fellows here at the Center for Global Development.
Vij begins with a staggering statistic on the oil rich Niger Delta, where more than half a billion gallons of oil has been spilled over the last half-century—far greater than current estimates of the Gulf gusher. We discuss the ways that corruption, weak regulation, and crime combine to make onshore spills a common occurrence in Africa’s oil producing nations.
Todd Moss explains that off-shore wells are attractive because they are insulated from problems such as organized crime oil theft and sabotage. On the other hand, African countries with offshore deposits lack the ability to monitor for blowouts.
“There's very little reason-- other than the companies reporting themselves-- for anyone to even know if there is an accident or a leak,” says Todd. “If this did happen off-shore in the Gulf of Guinea, we probably wouldn't know until it started washing up onshore.”
Nonetheless, Todd says, the combination of crime on shore and large untapped reserves off-shore mean that oil companies in Africa are moving more and more to expand deepwater production. The Gulf of Mexico disaster has shown that this shift entails large environmental risks. And oil production of any sort has often had negative impacts in poor and fragile states—Vij highlights the example of Equatorial Guinea, where vast oil income has failed to improve people’s lives.
Near the end of the Wonkcast, Todd describes a proposal he is developing that aims to cushion some of these negative effects—especially increased corruption—by distributing oil revenues directly to a country’s citizens.
Have something to add to our discussion? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below, or send me an email. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.
My thanks to Wren Elhai for his very able production assistance on the Wonkcast recording and for a draft version of this blog post.