BBC News: Polluting Nigeria
23 June 04
Living on oil
The production of oil, discovered in the Niger Delta 40 years ago, is having a devastating affect on Nigeria's largest wetland region. Families live among the oil fields, breathing in methane gas and coping with frequent oil leaks in Africa's largest oil exporter. Oil giant Shell gets 10% of its oil from the Niger Delta and is failing to invest in its infrastructure to prevent pollution, says Friends of the Earth in a new report Behind the Shine.
About 10,000 barrels of oil were spilt in the nine states that make up the Niger Delta last year. A leaking oil head spews oil and gas in Ogoniland. The oil heated by the sun becomes highly flammable. “Shell must work with local communities to clean up the Niger Delta and make sure communities receive the benefits of their operations there,” says Oronto Douglas from Friends of the Earth. Shell says that it is helping to fund a body set up to develop the area.
Flaring natural gas from oil fields is a common sight and dominates the skyline in the Niger Delta. Gas is a by-product of crude oil production, which needs to be released to produce oil. It is the most visible impact of the oil industry on daily life. The flares constantly spew smoke across the surrounding farms.
Oil companies choose to burn the gas instead of reinjecting the gas into the ground or selling it, saying this is the most economic option. The Nigerian government wants flaring to be stopped by 2010, as it wastes energy and contributes to global warming. Shell is committed to ending its flaring by 2008, but is backsliding on this commitment due to expense, says Friends of the Earth.
Nigeria earns some $10bn every year from oil but Niger Delta residents remain mired in poverty. Less than 20% of the region is accessible by good roads, even in the dry season, and hospitals and schools are seriously under-funded. Poor sanitation and pollution means that access to safe drinking water is a major problem facing local communities.
In close proximity to the uninterrupted flames, agricultural life continues. But the oil operations are affecting the traditional livelihoods of communities living in the Delta. In Rumuekpe in Rivers State (left) cassava, yams and bananas are grown, but the soil is losing its fertility. Local residents are also no longer able to fish because the waterways are polluted.
Local people are compelled to cope with oil spill after oil spill. A rusting network of pipes and a slow response from oil companies to leaks are blamed.
A high pressure oil pipeline ruptured in December last year in Rukpokwu, an hour's drive from Shell's headquarters in Port Harcourt. The local community said no action was taken by Shell for a week.
The Rukpokwu fires took six weeks to extinguish and destroyed much farmland and a local forest. “Our only source of drinking water, fishing stream, and farm lands covering over 300 hectares of land with aquatic life, fish nets and traps, farm crops, animals... and trees are completely destroyed,” said Paramount Ruler Chief Clifford E Enyinda of the Mgbuchi community. An environmental clean-up of Rukpokwu had still not begun, six months after the spillage.
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