Oil and Gas Nigeria
Commercial exploitation of oil in Nigeria commenced in 1958. The country holds a unique place regarding oil and gas activities in Africa. First, it is the largest producer of crude oil, at about 2.3 million barrels per day, when the oil fields are not riddled with violence. Second, the oil fields of Nigeria have become a metaphor for wanton environmental despoliation by the industry. The Niger Delta's oil history has been the bane of the region.
In an analysis comparing the practices of Shell oil company in Nigeria with international standards to prevent and control pipeline oil spills, Professor Richard Steiner of the University of Alaska observes that “Throughout the 50 years of oil production, this ecologically productive region has suffered extensive habitat degradation, forest clearing, toxic discharges, dredging and filling, and significant alteration by extensive road and pipeline construction from the petroleum industry. Of particular concern in the Niger Delta are the frequent and extensive oil spills that have occurred. Spills are under-reported, but independent estimates are that at least 115,000 barrels (15,000 tons) of oil are spilled into the Delta each year, making the Niger Delta one of the most oil-impacted ecosystems in the world.”
Professor Steiner further noted that oil spills have a significant impact on the natural resources upon which many poor Niger Delta communities depend. Drinking water is polluted, fishing and farming are significantly impacted, and ecosystems are degraded. Oil spills significantly affect the health and food security of rural people living near oil facilities.
When crude oil is extracted it often comes with associated gas which must be separated from the crude to produce fine, export quality oil. In Nigeria this is largely done through burning the gas. Oil companies have burnt the gas since the early 1960’s and about 23 billion cubic meters are burnt annually. For communities next to gas flares, the toxic cocktail may have serious health impacts in the form of respiratory illnesses, asthma, painful breathing, chronic bronchitis, blood disorders, and cancer, among others. This burning of gas is also a major contributor to the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
As the world scrounges for fossil fuels, more and more efforts are being expended on dirtier forms of oil. The entire Western region of Nigeria is rich in bitumen (from tar sands) and efforts are made to commence its extraction. Bitumen extraction is more environmentally intensive than crude oil, due to the open cast methods where the earth is simply ripped open for the mineral to be scooped. This, together with the method of using steam to melt the bitumen before extraction, will surely pose a great danger to the communities and their environments. There will be displacements of people, and associated impacts and rights abuses may be expected.