Crude oil is sometimes called the black gold and has an allure that almost makes it irresistible to speculators, corporations, governments and those who believe that wealth does trickle down from such exploitations. Whatever the case, crude oil births dreams. It also aborts them.
Nigeria ranks among one of the top 20 crude oil producing nations in the world today, with its position hovering around the 16th. Africa contributes 9 per cent of global crude oil production and half of that comes from Angola and Nigeria.
About a quarter of the crude oil production in Nigeria happens onshore, while the rest are extracted offshore. That ratio may change if the oil which has been discovered in Bauchi/Gombe proves to be in commercial quantities.
A number of factors combine to make the nation a high-risk territory for sourcing for resource. One of the factors relates to the impact on communities of the ecological despoliation that accompanies its extraction in the country. Others include the social discontent and conflicts generated by the destruction of livelihoods, contamination of food sources and the general rupturing of support structures for healthy living. For Nigeria, vesting in further oil exploration and extraction is risky in a world that will soon shift away from fossil fuel dependence. Is the continued search worth the budget?
The extent of crude oil pollution in the communities of the Niger Delta is simply mind boggling. With at least one flare point popping up at the new oil find location, it seems that oil pollution may finally be seen and understood by a larger number of Nigerians. The celebratory tones of the find on social media has been comparable to the drumming, dancing and hopes that burst out in Oloibiri and other communities in Ogbia area of Bayelsa State when oil was found there in the 50s.
The celebrations in Oloibri did not last long before it turned sour as hope of ‘development’ was dashed and what stuck in its place was untold environmental devastation. Today, the first oil well, drilled in 1956, sits in a hut and has been designated a mere monument. Other abandoned wells in the Ogbia bushes are yet to be decommissioned and try not to be ignored by occasionally dripping crude.
The oil companies operating in Nigeria have justly earned a bad reputation from the local population and on a global scale. They built that reputation from scratch, including from when they started flaring gas associated with crude oil extraction on the flimsy premise that there was no market for natural gas in the 1960s and flaring became a convenient company practice. It may be said also that because oil companies were not immediately held to account for oil spills when they reared their ugly heads in the Niger Delta and pollution became acceptable corporate practice. They were ignored and rose to the levels of ecocide that we see today.
In the heat of the fires set by their corporate misbehaviour, transnational oil companies operating in Nigeria have devised the strategy of supporting ‘backward integration’ or encouraging the entrances of local entrepreneurs by selling off some of their onshore assets and clawing deeper out into the sea. And, the locals, often being “sons and daughters of the soil,’’ are given the benefit of the doubt and are readily accommodated by local communities since it is believed that the accruing wealth will trickle down to them and that local companies would not permit dastard ecological harm. Such sentiments do not take into account, the pattern of accumulation by despoliation and dispossession inherent in the DNA of reckless capitalist production. The oil spills under local hands are as deadly as when they drip through foreign fingers. This is already happening.
In any case, the multinational oil companies prefer to dive into deeper waters, because they can escape close scrutiny and because the deeper you go, the amount the Nigerian government receives as royalties gets progressively smaller. Who would not choose the deep-water option if doing so brings more profit and less responsibilities?
NOSDRA must be stretched to the limits by the spate of oil spills in the Niger Delta. The agency must literally be chasing after new spills and those that are ignored on a daily basis. Over the years, it has been agreed that about 240,000 barrels of crude oil gets spilled into the environment annually.
Researches indicate that between 1999 and 2005, up to 17.04 per cent of the spills were attributed to mechanical failure. Corrosion caused 15.56 per cent and unknown causes accounted for 31,85 per cent of the oil spills. Operational error accounted for 12.59 per cent. These four categories, or 77.04 per cent, can be summed up as industry responsibilities. For that period, 20.74 per cent was said to be from third party activity. What happened in 2005? What changed?
These days most of the incidents are attributed to third party interferences. At one level, the current situation appears to be the result of very well orchestrated campaign by the oil companies to change the narrative by pointing at poor community people as the source of the ongoing ecological terror. The campaign succeeded due to the highly advertised violent actions in the creeks and oil thefts that continue to escalate despite the crude being stolen from high pressure pipelines and other structures. This state of affairs allow crude oil to be made available for the running of the obnoxious ‘bush refineries’ that are contributing massively to the degradation of the environment. These illegalities run on the subtly induced obnoxious sense of entitlement or ownership, that encourages the horrible situation where poor community people engage in extremely dangerous slave labour of cooking and distilling petroleum products at the pleasure of evil barons.
All said, the beneficiaries of the ecocide in the land are the oil companies. As the ecological crimes intensified, they simply stepped up their media game, conducted helicopter pollution tours for local and international media and continued to wash their oil-soaked hands off the debacle they orchestrated. The outcome is that today, many believe that the pollution in the Niger Delta is caused by third parties without asking questions about who constitutes this infamous third party. The other questions to be answered include why they do what they do and how. Could these third parties be embedded in the industry, security and political structures? It is imperative that the so-called third parties are identified and adequately sanctioned.