Breaking News–Pipeline explosion kills 34!

December 26, 2007

OK, I’m doing exactly what I dislike about most media–writing a headline intended to grab your attention. It is true. It happened today (Wed, Dec 26). Here’s the BBC report.

That’s the trick–it happened in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, and therefore it will probably never be big news in the towns and cities across North America or even Europe. I got into the business I am in now because I was involved in responding to a tragic pipeline explosion in my town that killed two 10 year boys and an 18 year old young man. That incident, the Olympic Pipeline accident, resulted in huge legislative changes, international media coverage, tens of thousands of hours of pipeline safety activism, hundreds of millions in damages paid and many many more millions in legal fees, and probably a half a forest of trees turned into paper that ran all the newspaper stories. I would say nothing to diminish the importance of this event and the value of the changes made in its aftermath. But why do we pay so little attention to 34 deaths in Nigeria from a pipeline explosion–following closely after another explosion in which at least 260 died?

One reason of course is the cause–people are stealing gasoline from the pipelines by boring holes into them. So, these people are engaged in criminal acts and therefore create less sympathy when the disaster that befalls them is to at least some degree of their own making. Yet, if this happened in our town, or any town or city in North America, let alone the capital of the country, what would happen? The companies who own the pipeline would be made to pay. The fact that people could get at such dangerous infrastructure would mean it is their fault. They would be forced by legislation and legal action to make certain such acts are prevented in the future. Is this a bad thing? No. But what is bad is the unevenness of our caring. Why are we not in protest over the lack of action on the part of the Nigerian government, or after the companies that own the pipelines or the fuel in them to take action to prevent such things.

It is very clear that our activism and outrage at such things is biased and self-centered. Should our concern for the environment, for public safety and health be limited to impacts on our neighbors and fellow citizens? We are more and more citizens of the world–with communication that makes this a global village. So where is the news media on this? Where are the pipeline safety activists–even those who made a career out of it based on what happened here in Bellingham? The silence is deafening–and damning.

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