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Oilwatch Africa

Oilwatch has been campaigning to ensure that new/ emerging oil bearing communities in Africa have comprehensive information on the impacts of extractive activities, the right of communities to free, prior informed consent before any extractive activities can take place and in the event that communities are willing to allow extraction; how to preserve the environment and ensure that revenues accruing from any extraction is transparently utilized for development.

The member organizations of Oilwatch Africa are joining forces to resist the negative impacts of oil and gas industry activities on people and the environment. This is done through:

·       supporting local/community initiatives in resisting the negative impacts of oil and gas activities on the environment, the local economy and people’s health and livelihoods

·       influencing government bodies/ officials, politicians and bureaucrats to avoid the negative impacts of oil and gas activities

·       documenting and disseminating widely the negative impacts of oil and gas activities

·       analysing social and political dimensions and formulating political positions

·       arguing for leaving new oil in the ground

Oilwatch has been campaigning to ensure that new/ emerging oil bearing communities in Africa have comprehensive information on the impacts of extractive activities, the right of communities to free, prior informed consent before any extractive activities can take place and in the event that communities are willing to allow extraction; how to preserve the environment and ensure that revenues accruing from any extraction is transparently utilized for development.

Oilwatch Africa is right now campaigning to leave the oil in the soil. Africa is among the most vulnerable areas that climate change has been impacting, millions more are falling through the crack into deeper poverty and the destruction of the environment is accelerating apace because of the struggle to exist. Infrastructural facilities have almost disappeared. Leaving the oil in the soil is seen by Oilwatch Africa to be the best way to start the push back against climate change and poverty.

Oilwatch Africa has raised the consciousness of groups in Africa to look beyond the glossy pictures and promises of wealth and see the destruction that lies in wait for unwary communities who fail to take their destiny in their hands by ensuring that any “developments” within their communities meet their own definition of development.

THE BASIS FOR OILWATCH AFRICA’S WORK

The environmental context

The impacts of oil exploration and extraction are severe and visible.  The first footprints of the industry are noticeable right from the exploratory stages when paths are cleared through forests for collation of seismic date. For Africa, this opening up of forested areas exacerbates the problem of deforestation. Drilling and transportation stages have their own peculiar problems including further deforestation for pipelines and other attendant problems. Deforestation and social impacts on forest communities have been very pronounced in Cameroon following the construction of the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline.  The environmental news that emanates from the industry’s activities in Africa is never positive. This happens because of the level of monitoring as well as enforcement of relevant regulations where they exist. Because of this state of affairs, oil business on the continent tends to provide revenue to the state, but misery to the local communities.

Nigeria offers a lot of lessons to other African countries “blessed” with the black gold. Oil facilities, like pipelines and production sites, are susceptible to oil spills and over the last half a century of oil production in Nigeria it is estimated that millions of barrels of crude oil have been discharged into the environment in Nigeria alone. Oil spills impact negatively on or even destroy water sources, fisheries and crop yields. Apart from the impacts on fishing stocks, the toxic nature of crude oil and related contaminants mean that fish which ingest these substances end up passing them to the people who consume them. In this way the entire food chain is compromised.

Multinational companies burn off gas associated with crude oil. The flared gas contains cancer causing toxins, causing menstrual disorders and congenital birth defects, is responsible for acid rain, acidification of rivers and lakes, impact on eye sight, skin and respiratory illnesses. The flared gas represents an enormous source of climate gas emissions. While investments are being made by some corporations to curb gas flaring in Angola, the damaging act goes on unchecked in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and DR Congo.

Studies have shown that seismic activities do have significant impact on marine ecosystems, including impacts on marine mammals, sea turtles and fishery.

Oil-based drilling muds are very toxic. Synthetic based drilling muds are less toxic but the use of barite as part of its constituents leads to the introduction of significant amounts of mercury into the environment.

Drill cuttings are sediments brought up from an oil well that is drilled. Most of these drill cuttings are simply dumped around the surrounding areas of exploration and production. The drill cuttings contain benzene and toluene, two well-known cancer causing agents.

Produced water is water extracted from oil wells along with the oil. Some of these are known to have naturally existing radioactive materials and have many toxins and other hormone disrupting chemicals and are usually dumped in special ponds created for this purpose or simply dumped into surrounding water bodies after poor treatment. This affects farm output and fishery as well as the water table, making it unsafe to use or drink water from the water table, because of the presence of benzene and toluene.

The political context

Commercial extraction of crude oil holds out much hope to local people across the continent but has consistently left them with broken promises, environmental degradation and severe social impacts. The governments in many of the oil producing countries tend to owe allegiance to the oil companies and often take sides with the oil multinationals against the people they are supposed to represent. There is no accountability to the people of the country. Centralised revenue inflow and less than transparent management makes the battle for political control a do-or-die affair. Rents from oil are fuelling corruption.

Partnership between industry players and politicians on the continent works out in a system of mutual help as the companies prop up regimes with petrodollars while the regime offers the companies freedom to do their work with scant attention to standards. From such scenarios, increased militarization and violence to enhance the unhindered flow of oil is the result, together with a heavy cost to the environment, livelihood and life. Often, the excuse for the horrendous human rights abuses that take place in oil producing communities is to prevent oil theft, sabotage and terrorism.

For the coming decades, the struggle for oil among the big powers like the US, the EU and China will partly take place in the oil-producing countries in Africa and most probably with many negative effects.