Niger Delta Ecosystems: the ERA Handbook/The Environmental Impact of the Oil Industry on the Niger Delta


  • The Nature of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
  • The Potential Environmental Impact of the Oil Industry
  • The Actual Adverse Environmental Impact of the Oil Industry
  • Common Impacts
  • Specific Impacts
  • The Economic Costs of Oil Production in the Niger Delta

The early parts of this chapter are a fundamental discussion about EIA. They stress that good environmental assessment is much more a frame of mind than the following of a recipe. A good frame of mind, which enables the assessor to have a clear idea of the environmental impacts of a particular human activity, rather than, as is often the case, an emotional and unscientific reaction to environmental change.

Thus, anyone wishing to undertake environmental assessment must read sections 1 and 2 of this chapter, which are based on the real field experience of ERA. Otherwise, for a description of the actual impacts, only sections 3, 4 and 5 need be read.


What is EIA? In order to be able to have a clear and objective view of how the oil industry makes an impact upon the environment it is necessary first to understand the nature of environmental impact assessment in terms of the mining of oil. Six ideas about EIA need to be grasped.


In the first place, good EIA of the oil and gas industry in the Niger Delta depends upon satisfying the three essential components of EIA. These are:

  • a thorough understanding of all the component activities of the oil and gas industry; and, the potential environmental impact implications of these activities;
  • a thorough understanding of the environment in which these activities take place in terms (as this book has taken pains to stress) of the dynamics of human ecosystems, the ultimate manifestation of which is human society; and
  • A thorough understanding of the dynamic relationship between the activities of the oil and gas industry and the environment; this last component being EIA.


The activities of the oil and gas industry have an environmental impact upon dynamic human ecosystems. Because they are dynamic, these ecosystems will change, in any event, even without the impact of the oil industry. This is clear in the Niger Delta, as explained below, not least because the presence of a large and growing population itself has a significant impact. Therefore EIA must be understood in terms of the environment with and without the oil and gas industry, (not, as is sometimes the case, arising from an insufficient understanding of the environment in terms of before and after).


Although this should now be obvious to the reader, it is remarkable how often EIA confines itself only to ecological conditions as if they are something separate from human ecosystems. The environment upon which the impact of the oil industry is being assessed is the human environment in all its manifestations. There are four layers of the human environment upon which human activities have an impact: each needs to be understood in order to be able to assess the significance of the impact; and, the impact on one layer can only be fully understood if the underlying layer is pre-conditionally understood. These layers, with an example, are shown below.

Basic Ecological Conditions The basic ecological condition may be that the wastes from a factory are polluting a river.
Environmental Health Conditions The environmental health conditions are that the river supplies water to a local town so that local drinking water is poisoned.
Social Conditions The social conditions are that people are becoming ill from drinking the poisoned water; and, this situation is exacerbated by the lack and consequence expense of medical treatment.

Political Conditions (in terms of how social conditions influence people's political views and actions)

The political conditions are that local political groups are becoming active, demanding not only that the factory processes its wastes properly but also that medical facilities in the town be improved and made available to everyone.


EIA not only assesses the environmental impacts of human activities (sometimes called projects) but also it is a means to a more efficient management of them. There are four reasons for this.

What is a Project? A project describes a human activity which uses existing resources to achieve specific objectives. For instance logging is a project, the resource being the forest and the objective the production of logs.

EIA provides information to decision-makers

So that at every stage in the management of human activities and projects, good design, good management and good social responsibility is possible. Thus, approached properly, EIA gives direction, and it saves time and direct costs for project development and management. But more importantly, it reduces the environmental costs of a project to society as a whole, that may, in the end, save an oil company from a great deal of political opposition.

EIA allows managers to anticipate the adverse enivrionmental impacts of projects

Thus, from the beginning, enabling the design of projects that avoid, mitigate or compensate for these impacts. In other words, EIA is a precautionary process. And in this respect, it is worth remembering that EIA methodology developed out of a desire by engineers to anticipate the expensive physical environmental impacts of engineering project (for instance the subsequent maintenance costs of badly designed road through mountainous regions) and thus to save future expenditure.

EIA is an ongoing monitoring process

Good EIA is not just done and then forgotten about. It not only enables a minimisation of adverse environmental impacts but it also enables good and economic project management throughout the life of the project.

Thus EIA is a learning process

Enabling a continual improvement in management processes.


The significance of human activities are defined in terms of:–

  • a description of the impact;
  • the measurability of the impact;
  • the human ecological consequences of the impact;
  • the cost of managing the impact (i.e. the costs of avoiding it, of mitigating it or compensating for it); and
  • the geographical extent of the impact.

Moreover assessments of the significance of the environmental impact of human activity are, in the end, unavoidably subjective. This is because, even with all the available information in front of them, decision-makers have to make essentially arbitrary, valueladen decisions about the significance of certain impacts. For instance, a leaking flowline may be disastrous for the small farmer upon whose land oil is being leaked. But nonetheless, in relation to the Niger Delta as a whole, and, in relation to the other environmental problems that the region suffers, one small leak from a flowline will be seen by rational decision makers as having a low significance. Nonetheless, many small leaks accumulating over time are likely to have a significant impact.


Participation makes the EIA process more efficient for two reasons:

  • Interested Parties have knowledge that outside EIA agencies (such as outside consultants) often do not have; and
  • Interested Parties have an interest in the outcome of the EIA process. Local People have a special interest because they are the people most likely to suffer from the adverse environmental impacts of a badly designed and managed project.

Generally, Interested Parties will include:

  • Local people and local government;
  • Relevant government agencies;
  • Oil companies; and
  • Relevant NGOs.

In reality, despite good intentions, the participation of interested parties in the EIA process, is not often satisfactorily achieved. However the importance of participation in EIA cannot be under-estimated if projects; and, especially controversial projects, are to have the best chance of success in the implementation phase. If local, governmental and non-governmental interests are considered from the beginning, then their concerns and needs can be built into the design, making political support and cooperation for the project more likely. Project design and development processes which ignore Interested Parties often lose potentially valuable knowledge and support; and, flounder on political objections.

It is important to appreciate that while the participation of local people is an essential part of good EIA, decision makers often have to make difficult decisions which are not in the interests of local people but which benefit the wider community. In these situations the participation of local people is even more important so that project design minimises the potentially adverse impacts of a project upon them.


Sometimes referred to as Macro-EIA, SEA takes account of the fact that the cumulative environmental impact of a number of similar individual projects in an area needs to be considered as part of a coordinated regional planning process. The numerous oil fields and their component wells, flow-lines, flow stations, pipelines and terminals in the Niger Delta obviously fall into this category.

Also SEA takes account of the cumulative environmental impact of small projects which, on their own, may not seem to justify an EIA but cumulatively may have a significant impact. The dredging programmes of the natural and man-made watercourses are a good example of this.

The extent and the intensity of the oil industry in the Niger Delta, together with the environmental complexity of the area, make it surprising that the industry as a whole has not yet concluded that SEA would be both cheaper and more efficient than individual project EIAs. More surprising that the larger companies have not coordinated their environmental assessment activities more effectively in view of the global concern about environmental conditions.


Not only does the oil industry inherently have a high potential to make an adverse environmental impact upon the Niger Delta, but also, four factors, interacting with each other, ensure that this potential is realised. These four factors are briefly discussed below, although it should be stressed that it is perfectly feasible for oil (and gas) to be mined with very little adverse impact upon the local environment.


As described in this book, the environment in which the oil industry operates is a very complex human ecosystem. In the first place, the natural ecosystem, as the determining basis of all human activity, is a dynamic inter-relationship of young wetland and lowland deltaic ecosystems, which are fragile and highly valued in terms of global biodiversity. These ecosystems are important as the sources of a wide range of renewable natural resources; also, over the past 5000 years they have attracted and influenced the development of a human society and an associated culture which is now represented by about 7 million people.


As the section about geology has explained in the last chapter there is a likelihood of oil and gas lying beneath a large part of the Niger Delta, both onshore and offshore. The area produces 3.2% of the world's oil requirements. Evidence of the industry is everywhere, map 5 showing how pervasive is the industry today. Moreover, the map shows only the pipe-lines which carry bulk crude oil from the flow stations to the oil terminals, it does not show the thousands of kilometres of flow-lines which run in batches across the lowland farms carrying the crude from the well-heads to the flow-stations. An abiding picture for anyone who has worked in the area is of women, carrying farm produce on their heads, trying to negotiate these flow lines.

Also, it should be remembered that the industry is growing all the time: exploration goes on, new fields are opened, and old fields are abandoned, the mess left behind for Local People to deal with.


The potential for adverse environmental impact is inherent in the oil and gas industry processes as described in the last chapter. In exploration, in mining and in processing there is an adverse environmental impact even where the best precautions are taken. And, very often they are not.


Since the formation of the country by Lugard in 1914, Nigeria has had governments that have been careless of the environmental impacts of mining. Tin mining in the Jos Plateau and coal mining in the area around Enugu are good examples of where mining has always ignored the well-being of employees and local people alike. This tradition was imported from Britain where conditions at the time were no better.

The situation is worse today where a succession of corrupt governments have run the country for no other reason than to enrich themselves. Add to this the arrogant culture of mining companies described in section 2 of the last chapter, and it is not surprising that environmental considerations and human rights do not figure at all. This corrupt political environment enables the law to be prostituted to a corrupt oil mining industry, as explained below.


An example of how good law has been prostituted by corrupt government to a bad mining industry.

Regulation 42 of the Drilling and Production Regulations, legally enforceable since 1969, requires oil-mining companies to set up facilities to utilise the gas extracts arising from oil extraction within five years of the commencement of operation. This was ignored for ten years so that it was enforced by the Associated Gas Re-Injection Act of 1979 which banned gas flaring. Here, it was required that by April 1st all the oil companies should have developed plans for gas re-injection projects.

Still the oil companies ignored the law, instead lobbying for a partial exemption which was finally decreed in 1985, under the 1979 act (the democratic, albeit hopelessly corrupt, Shagari government having been overthrown by Major General Muhammadu Buhari on the 31st December 1993). This military decree enabled the following associated gas flaring activities:

  • Flaring of up to 25% of all associated gas;
  • Flaring of gas with more than 15% impurities, which makes it unsuitable for industrial purposes;
  • Flaring during the time that technical problems preclude the utilisation of the gas; and
  • Flaring where the volume of gas is less than 50 thousand Standard Cubic Feet (SCF).

Obviously this allows a very wide interpretation and, in any event, monitoring by government agency is non-existent. The oil companies can do what they like. And what they like, is to ignore the regulations so that Nigeria flares more gas than any other country. Thanks to successful lobbying the oil companies can today flare as much gas as they like by obtaining an exemption certificate and by paying a derisory fine for each cubic metre flared.

Flaring of Natural Gas as % of Gross Production in 1991, World Bank report Defining an Environmental Development Strategy for the Niger Delta – 1995.

Nigeria 76 %
Saudi Arabia 20 %
Iran 19 %
Mexico 5 %
Britain 4.3 %
Algeria 4 %
Ex-USSR 1.5 %
USA 0.6 %
The Netherlands 0 %



In order to understand the significance of the actual adverse impact that the oil industry has upon the environment of the Niger Delta, it is important to be able to make an unemotional and objective analysis of the environment, both locally and globally. Following scientific investigation of real conditions, this analysis requires three sequential intellectual exercises which logically lead from one from to the other. At the end of each exercise a thorough understanding of the following conditions will be achieved, as follows:

  • Background Environmental Conditions – i.e. what would the environment be like without the oil industry;
  • Agents of Impact – i.e. the causes;
  • Actual Impacts and their Results – i.e. what does the agent actually do.

This is a Logical Assessment and a couple of easy examples are set out below.


As limited examples

Cultured Lowland Tropical Rainforest (on fossilised beach ridges) under significant pressure from farmers, loggers, hunters and gatherers from a large town nearby. Mangrove Swamps: the atmosphere of which is otherwise unpolluted. Subject to: Harmattan dust Jan to Mar, heavy rain (up to 2,000mm per month) May to Oct; and, in-coming marine winds Apr to Dec.
AGENT OF IMPACT A RURAL ROAD connecting a main road to a village previously only accessible by a footpath and a walking journey of about two hours GAS FLARING
One example
Disruption to natural drainage systems Emission of CO₂ and Methane
Limited examples
Flooding & raising the water table upstream, likely to alter soil conditions with a subsequent alteration of the agricultural and cultured forest environment. Addition to Global Warming gases.

These examples show nicely how real environmental impacts have to be investigated in an iterative way. This is because the investigation process may start at any point in the sequence. For instance, in the field, an investigation may arise from the sudden death of forest trees. Initial investigation may suggest that the deaths are caused by unusual flooding, which demands a wider investigation of the drainage system, in turn demanding an understanding of the environmental background.

Nonetheless, in the end, following investigation, and with all the possible facts at hand, a disciplined logical assessment must begin with an understanding of the environmental background and then followed up with the logical sequence as described above.

If this disciplined and logical approach is not followed then it is very easy to draw the wrong conclusions. Easy for instance, to assume that all the environmental problems in the Niger Delta which have arisen in the past forty years are caused by the oil industry simply because the industry has been active for the same period. A good example of this is the environmental problems which have arisen from the unprecedented population increase of the past forty years. Undoubtedly the oil industry has encouraged large-scale inward migration into the Niger Delta, but even without the industry there would have been a rapid increase in the number of people living in the area just as there has been in the rest of the country.


In judging the significance of the impact of the oil industry upon the Niger Delta we must first appreciate the background environment. In other words what would environmental conditions be like in the Niger Delta without the oil industry? There are four issues here, all of which have been discussed in detail in earlier chapters. In summary they are as follows.

An understanding of History

In the first place it is absolutely essential to understand the human ecological history of the area. That is the socio/economic history (the culture) of the area and how it evolved in relation to the environment, and how, in dynamic relationship, the environment has been shaped by the culture and by outside influences. Here, it is also important to have a sense of time and to cast off any pre-conceptions which our own culture, education and political views may have given us as environmental assessors. For instance it is easy for outsiders to assume that the cultured forests of the Niger Delta are in their natural state or that all cleared areas are of recent origin. Equally difficult, at times, for local people to accept that their own culture may be as flawed in some aspects as may be the culture of the outsider.

Human Population Growth

Nigeria as a whole has a high human population growth rate, probably in the region of 3% per annum giving a doubling rate of less than 25 years. This means that according to the 1991 census figures, Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa will have a combined population of about 13 million people by 2015, giving an overall density of 3-4 persons per hectare: very high given the limited areas of dry land.

Resource Demand

High human populations and population growth both locally, nationally and globally puts pressure on all the natural resources of the Niger Delta in addition to its oil. Local people need clean water, farmland, fish and forest resources but so do people outside the region. Effectively the demand for the natural resources of the Niger Delta are infinite: for instance every bit of timber that could be felled would find a market. In the near future pressure will intensify for developing the agricultural potential of the Niger Delta, for oil palm and for rice for export. These agricultural activities could have an even more profound influence on the local ecosystems than does oil industry.

Already, as a result of the pressure for food and other agricultural products, most of the forest in the Lowland Equatorial Monsoon ecozone has been cleared and the degradation of agricultural land is a real problem faced by most farmers. All the same, the oil industry has contributed directly to this degradation because the wealth generated by the industry has encouraged government to ignore the need to invest in the development of the national Renewable Natural Resource (RNR) sector of the economy, particularly agriculture. As a result, for instance, the maintenance of fertility by the use of fertilisers is practically unknown in the Niger Delta.


Despite substantial oil revenues, Nigeria is one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The country has a Human Development Index, according to the United Nations Development Programme, which puts it 139th out of 173 countries, and a per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$340 compared to US$1000 in 1980. The reason for this poor and deteriorating economic situation arises from the neglect of the Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) sector of the economy (Agriculture, Forests & Fisheries) in favour of oil revenues, coupled with a rapid increase in population which has put particular pressure on the RNR sector.

The situation is exacerbated by endemic corruption which leads to economic inefficiencies and a poorly functioning national infrastructure. Moreover this corruption has created massive income inequity giving rise to a small wealthy elite in juxtaposition with a poverty stricken majority much of which is increasingly urban based. This situation is causing social tensions.

Oil revenues provide about 25% of GDP, 90% of foreign exchange earnings and 70% of budgetary expenditure. Thus the economy as a whole, the provision of government expenditure and services, and the national debt are particularly subject to variations in world oil prices. The economic boom of the 1970s was based on rapidly increasing oil revenues and international borrowing: the economic decline of the 1980s was based on declining revenues and an increasing debt service burden. During all this period, the non-oil sector, especially agriculture, which accounts for 35% of GDP, was neglected. From being a major producer and exporter of cocoa, palm oil (the world leader in 1960), cotton, timber and groundnuts in the early 1970s, Nigeria had, by the 1990s, become a net importer of agricultural products.

Some respite from this dismal economic picture came from the Structural Adjustment Programme pursued between 1986 to 1992, which, for a while, transformed a GDP decline of 2% p.a. to an increase of 5% p.a. This improvement arose largely from a positive response from the RNR sector, especially agriculture. Nonetheless the increased agricultural production appears to have arisen from an expanded area of cultivation and from reducing fallow periods, rather than from improved productivity. One of the important reasons for this failure arose from the inability of the SAP to free fertiliser marketing from inefficient government control.

While investment in the RNR sector continues to be insufficient, the population is growing fast, having more than doubled since Independence, and putting huge pressures on RNRs. In parts of the South, rural population densities have reached 600 persons per square kilometre. The resulting reduced fallow periods have reduced yields while agricultural land is expanding at the expense of forests and tree cover generally, which is, in turn, damaging water catchments and encouraging large scale sheet and gully erosion. These environmental problems are compounded by the polluting effects of expanding cities growing faster than the national rate, and by poorly controlled primary and secondary industry.

In sum, the condition of the Nigerian soil resource is declining rapidly. The subsequent environmental degradation is impoverishing the mass of Nigerians who do not have access to oil wealth.

From an ERA article of 1997

Thus, regardless of the oil industry, there has been and will continue to be:

  • forest degradation,
  • conversion of forest to agricultural land,
  • soil degradation
  • degradation of fish habitats and depletion of fish stocks

External Pressures

A number of external pressures will increasingly have an adverse impact upon the environment of the Niger Delta. The three most important are as follows:

  • Upstream dams

As discussed in the earlier chapter about Sand Barrier Islands, the human activity that has the most profound impact on the deposition/erosion relationship which shapes the delta are forest clearance and the construction of dams. Dams trap sediment, reducing the amount of sand available for deposition. It has been estimated that 70% of the sediment once available to the Niger delta from the Niger/Benue river system has been lost in this way (Collins and Evans in 1986). However increased sedimentation arising from forest loss may be making some compensation.

  • Pollution caused by upstream activities

The Fresh and Brackish-water ecozones of the Niger Delta are the last terrestrial sink for the drainage of much of Nigeria and a very large chunk of West Africa. Thus the industrial effluent of Kaduna, Onitcha and all the other cities in the Niger/Benue river basin end up in, or at least pass through, the Niger Delta. Plastic bags, in particular, are becoming a usual part of the sediment load.

  • Rising sea levels resulting from global warming

The 1995 World Bank Report suggests that the Niger Delta is particularly at risk because of its low elevation. A 1m rise in sea level would flood 18,000 km² of Nigeria, severely disrupting the oil and gas industry, forcing up to 80% of the delta’s population to relocate, in addition to destroying much agricultural land, forests and fisheries.


The potential oil industry agents of impact upon the environment are implied in Chapter 14.3 In summary these include the following.

Seismic prospecting onshore

  • surveying and clearing paths for the receiver cables,
  • laying the receiver cables and retrieving them,
  • boring 3-6m holes for the seismogelite explosive shots, and
  • detonating the explosives.

Drilling onshore

  • sealing the drilling site,
  • construction of the 50m derrick,
  • mixing and use of drilling fluids,
  • drilling operations,
  • disposal of drilling wastes,
  • installation of well casing, and
  • generation of industrial wastes.

Oil Production

  • provision of access to sites by land and/or water,
  • maintenance of a well head,
  • flow lines,
  • construction and maintenance of flow stations,
  • separation of oil, water and gas at the flow station,
  • disposal of waste water,
  • disposal of gas, by re-injection, flaring or further processing,
  • transport of processed crude oil by pipeline to the oil terminal, and
  • generation of industrial wastes.

Gas Processing

  • pipelines,
  • gathering stations and
  • Liquefaction plants.


The Nigerian LNG project consists of the construction and operation of a new 5.8 mtpa capacity liquefied natural gas plant on Bonny Island in south-eastern Nigeria. The project will include the following elements:

  • A two-train gas liquefaction plant (LNG plant);
  • A 219 km gas transmission system (GTS) linking the plant by pipeline to the gas supply fields;
  • Associated utilities, storage/loading facilities and other infrastructure;
  • Six ocean going cryogenic vessels;
  • Residential quarters for the Company's permanent employees on the Bonny Island.

The plant site and residential area were cleared of vegetation in 1979 and hydraulically placed sand was added in 1981 to raise the level of the sites. The process involved the relocation of Finima village which was started in 1980 ... Nigeria LNG Ltd therefore inherited a cleared plant site and residential area, and the environmental and socio-economic impact off this clearance is therefore not considered in the Environmental Statement for the LNG plant.



The oil industry has a significantly adverse environmental impact upon the human environment of the Niger Delta. It's activities not only exacerbate other environmental problems but create unique problems which are worse than they need be because the industry as a whole is corrupt and careless and clearly does not operate to the standards which are expected elsewhere in the world.

In terms of costs and benefits, the great majority of the local people bear all the environmental costs and receive no economic benefits. When the oil reserves have been exhausted the human environment will have been unnecessarily degraded and the local people will be worse off than they would have been had there been no oil industry. The primary beneficiaries will be the shareholders of the oil companies, the highly paid technical and managerial staff and, most of all, the plethora of corrupt officials, politicians and military personnel. The wealth generated by the oil industry has been concentrated in a very few hands while the avaricious desire for a portion of the wealth directs and has thoroughly corrupted and criminalised the political life of the state to a degree where civil society is collapsing.

A thorough assessment of the environmental impact of the oil industry in the Niger Delta would take up an entire book. However in this chapter, only the major impacts together with their human ecological results are considered. Nonetheless it is worth stressing again what was said in section 1.4 of this chapter, which is that the environment upon which the impact of the oil industry is being assessed is the human environment in all its manifestations. Thus there are four layers of the human environment upon which human activities have an impact. These are:

  • basic ecological conditions;
  • environmental health conditions;
  • social conditions; and
  • political conditions, in terms of how social conditions influence people's political views and actions.

Many of the environmental impacts of the oil industry are common to a wide range of oil industry activities and thus the impacts will be looked at first as

  • Impacts common to a range of activities (Common Impacts); and then as
  • Impacts specific to specific activities (Specific Impacts).



Map 5 shows the geographical extent and the intensity of oil industry in the Niger Delta. Furthermore, it must be appreciated that the industry operates in an area that is densely populated and that it is expanding all the time and that, like all mining operations, it leaves a mess behind it.

What the map does not show, of course, is the wide array of other impacts that the industry has generated, both economically beneficial and costly: gas flares, employment, migration into the area, urban development, additional roads, road traffic, air traffic, noise and pollution.

These are a few and it is quite impossible to live in or to visit the Delta without being aware of the industry, which intrudes into all aspects of people's lives.


Seismic Lines 56,000 km
Drilling 349 sites
Flowlines 700 km
Pipelines 400 km
Flowstations 22 sites
Terminal 1 site

From the World Bank report of 1995.


Roads required by the oil industry often give the incidental economic benefit to local people of providing access to agricultural areas and forests. Nonetheless, potentially they have three adverse environmental impacts.

Access to otherwise inaccessible areas provided by roads

Often creating additional hunting, gathering, logging and agricultural pressures on forest areas.

Disruption to drainage systems cuased by badly designed roads

This is one of the most common faults of the oil industry. This is because preconstruction environmental impact assessments are not carried out (in order to guide design); and because, it seems, the roads are built on the cheap. Generally the roads act as dams blocking the free flow of water especially in the wet season. As a result hydrological systems are disrupted so that the associated ecosystems are altered. The most obvious manifestation of this is flooding which destroys farmland and kills forest. This situation is particularly bad where roads are built at right angles to the beach ridges which have formed coastal plains: here the creeks between the ridges are blocked. A very good example is the access road to the Mobile Qua Iboe oil terminal near Eket in Akwa Ibom State. It is by no means unusual for villages to be flooded in the wet season as a result of such roads.

Damage to forest areas

Even where access roads do not encourage the wholesale destruction of the forest they cause irrevocable ecological damage by cutting a wide swathe through the vegetation so that not only is the forest fragmented but also ecological conditions are altered on either side. These alterations include changes in light, temperature and humidity. Ultimately increased light encourages a dense "jungle" of vegetation on each side of the road.


One of the most significantly adverse, but often overlooked, impacts of the oil industry is the alteration of hydrological conditions arising from the dredging and straightening of rivers and the cutting of canals (known as Slots). This causes some of the greatest damage that the oil industry inflicts to the Fresh and Brackish water ecozones, and especially to the dynamic and spatially extensive ecotone where the two ecozones meet. The World Bank, in its 1995 report, identifies nine specific problems associated with canalisation. These are:

  • destruction of fishing grounds;
  • changes in soil salinity with negative effects on forest vegetation;
  • changes in water flow patterns, disturbing patterns of erosion and sediment deposition;
  • dredging temporarily increases muddiness and reduces the water's oxygen content–this harms fish stocks;
  • during the rainy season dredging spoils can erode, making water muddy and sometimes poisonous;
  • a short-term increase in the biochemical oxygen demand because of dredging material and waste from houseboats;
  • reduced farm yields because of toxic substances in the dredging spoil;
  • reduced farm yields because of flooding; and
  • destruction of mangrove and fresh water swamp forests.

A location and access channel will be dredged to the required depth. A bucket dredger will be used to remove the topsoil, in order to enable a dredging barge to move in. Main dredging is done using a suction dredger. The dredged material is put on land. Dredged spoils will be up to 2.5m high.

SPDC Environmental Fact Book, 1993.

Also, it should be remembered, regular dredging and deposition of dredging spoil, often onto farmland, is a necessary part of maintaining access.

To facilitate exploitation of the Okoroba oil field Shell has needed to dredge and straighten the river, and to construct a canal (known as a slot) beside Okoroba to provide access to a capped well head...the slot ...drained the fresh-water creek upon which the village depended, replacing it with a stagnant body of brackish water (for the slot is a sort of cul-de-sac) which is useless for drinking and dangerous for bathing. Also the spoil from the slot was dumped onto farmland blocking the natural surface drainage and causing flooding. One of many statements made at a meeting in Okoroba in November 1993 sums up the situation: "agriculture is the basis of our wealth. Before Shell, the river was not as wide as today and we caught a lot of fish. They came and surveyed the land and we did not know what was happening. ...They cleared the river and drilled a well destroying the fishponds, etc and trees. They made a lot of promises: the hospital and toilet houses were destroyed, as were the burying grounds. They pumped out water and destroyed the farmland..."

From an ERA report presented in August 1994


The clearing of sites for Drilling, Flowstations and Terminals and the establishment and operation of these installations, have impacts upon the surrounding ecosystems in terms of altering hydrological conditions and the ecological conditions of forest area. Also noise and toxic emissions will spread over a wide area.


The number of registered oil spillages is increasing. . . Depending on the area, oil pollution could cause adverse impact on people (water quality), vegetation (smothering mangrove trees, crops, shore vegetation and fauna (fish, shellfish, soil fauna). This is demonstrated in several Post Impact studies on the recent or old spill sites. The 25 year old 'Mystery Spill' of the trunkline in the Ejama Ebubu caused during the Civil War is a well known – but not sufficiently studied yet – example. (SPDC handbook of 1993)

Oil spills have three main sources:

  • Oil Blowouts from wellheads as a result of poor maintenance or damage. The chances of blowouts are fairly high because Nigerian oil is naturally contained under pressure. Pollution from blowouts is made worse if the area around the wellhead is not properly sealed. Blowouts may also occur during drilling.
  • Oil Spillage from pipelines and flowlines as a result of poor maintenance or damage.
  • Oil Spillage at flow-stations during separation from water.

'The effects of oil spills on flora and fauna vary greatly: some species (such as crabs) hardly seem to be affected whereas other species (such as oysters, certain fish species, macrophytes die in large numbers. Effects on the continuity of fish populations have not been studied, but fishermen in the area report discoloration of fish.

In most cases – after a single oil spill – nature seems to recover in the short term, within about ten years. This is related to the volatility of Nigerian oil and a tropical climate, which promotes micro-organisms, which quickly break down the oil. The World Bank has concluded, with reservations, that there does not seem to be any large-scale oil pollution in the Niger Delta. At the same time it is noted that there is little scientific available.

It is clear, however, that oil spills can have serious consequences for the local environment and population. A farmer whose fields have been ruined by the oil pollution is not helped by being told that nature generally recovers within ten years. The same is true of a fisherman who sees the fish in a river decimated by an in spill. They have lost their sole source of income is in dire straits.

Van Gelder and Moerkamp in a Greenpeace Netherlands discussion paper, 1996.

A subsequent impact of oil spillage is on human health and especially mental health. In areas of intensive oil industry activity, local people often complain of increased physical and psychological symptoms which they blame on the presence of oil in their ecosystems. These symptoms are generally dismissed as exaggerations or as downright lies, made in an attempt to win sympathy and compensation.

. . . having our baths in the river, our life-wire, is becoming more and more unbearable; we have scratches on our body and rashes on our skins any time we go into the water.

From an ERA survey made in early 1994

However it is interesting that a report to the Dyfed Powys Health Authority of Wales on the effects of the Sea Empress oil spill on the health of the South Pembrokeshire population indicated increased symptoms and diagnoses similar to those complained of by local people in the Niger Delta.



Generally ill 7.3% 23.2% Yes
Headache 12.0% 32.5% Yes
Nausea 5.8% 12.6% Yes
Vomiting 2.5% 2.8% No
Diarrhoea 4.5% 7.6% Yes
Sore Eyes 4.9% 15.6% Yes
Runny Nose 11.3% 19.5% Yes
Sore Throat 10.5% 26.5% Yes
Cough 9.6% 19.1% Yes
Itching Skin 4.7% 10.4% Yes
Skin Rash 2.9% 6.7% Yes
Blisters 0.4% 1.1% Yes
Short Breath 4.4% 10.4% No
Weakness 12.7% 21.7% Yes

The report concludes that the Sea Empress oil spill did result in higher levels of psychological and physical illness in the coastal communities of Pembrokeshire. One of the biggest pipeline spills in recent years was reported in January 1998. It occurred off the Akwa Ibom coast in the pipeline between Mobile's offshore Idoho platform and its Qua Iboe terminal. 40,000 barrels a day were reported to be leaking into the sea resulting in a suspension of all Mobile's supplies to its customers.


This is one of the most difficult impacts to assess because so much political subjectivity can creep into the assessment processes. There are four social and political consequences.

Income Inequality

Because most people in the Niger Delta have very low or no disposable income while workers in the oil industry receive comparatively high incomes. For instance a flow station supervisor may receive up to N80,000 a month (about US$800 in 1997) compared with a well paid security guard who gets about N4,000 or a University lecturer, about N6,000. Civil servants are particularly badly paid compared to oil industry workers, which encourages corruption.

Unjust Provision of Services and Housing in Urban Areas

Because of the income inequality, which is exacerbated by corruption (whereby a very few people are extremely rich), only the top few percent of the population have access to services such as water electricity and education because they can pay for them. Everyone else more or less does without because public provision is so bad. Also because public housing is severely limited and because the house building industry concentrates on building for the rich, housing provision for the middle classes and the poor is of a very low standard. This is discussed in the final chapter on the special problems of Port Harcourt.

Social Discontent

Which arises from income inequality and the unjust provision of services and housing in urban areas. This ranges from a general awareness of the injustices of life to an anger that can occasionally flare up into mass political action. But perhaps the worst manifestation is the general air of depression that the condition lends to life as a whole in the Niger Delta.

All members of society appear to suffer from frustration both for themselves and for their children. This arises from poor agricultural yields, the lack of education and opportunities and the apparent abandonment by the government. But above all, it arises from the manifestation of the oil industry in the midst of the community which seems to represent huge wealth and yet has given nothing to it, except for the impoverishment of their land. This sense of frustration is most apparent amongst the young men and women who crave a better education but if they get it find that they can do little with it. The young men particularly, hang aimlessly around their communities (sometime helping their mothers on the farm) or migrate to the court-yard or water-side slums of Port Harcourt in search of work and something better... To an outsider, the diametric contrast between hopeless people scratching about in the degraded landscape and the high technology of the oil installations, the chemical plants of Onne and the expensive cars passing by on the Federal highway, suggests an unbalanced and unstable society.

Re-worded from an ERA report of 1993

Political Instability

Caused by social discontent which gives rise to political tensions and to the subsequent strong military influence which is characteristic of civil society in the Niger Delta.



Interfaces of seismic activities and the environment (from an SPDC fact book of 1993):

Seismic Activity Interface Potential Environmental Impact
Line cutting Disturbance Cleared vegetation
Expelled fauna
Affected ecosystem
Source operation (i.e. preparing for the soundings) Soil
Soil structure/erosion
Disturbance of sea-mammals (offshore)
Recording (i.e. the soundings) Disturbance
Soil structure/erosion
Soil pollution by explosives
Impact communities
Expelled fauna
Undegradable waste pits in the field

SPDC Eastern Division Seismic Activity from (from an SPDC fact book of 1993):

Parameter 2D 3D
Area covered onshore Entire Eastern Division 5,000 km²
Length seismic lines 60,000 km 31,380 km
Length seismic lines in mangroves in 39,000 km (=39 km²) 17,400 km (=17.4 km²)
Area covered offshore 3,100 km²

There are five main specific impacts of seismic surveying.

Seismic Prospecting - Extent

As shown in the table above, the lines cleared for seismic surveying cover great distances, often giving access to otherwise relatively inaccessible areas.

Seismic Prospecting - Explosions

Onshore, these can set up shock waves strong enough to damage buildings and certainly have a compacting effect upon soil structure. Also, if the boreholes are not back-filled with the same material that came out of them and compacted to a natural state, localised drainage and or water-logging problems can arise.

Seismic Prospecting - Damage to Vegetation

Although seismic prospecting is only a temporary exercise and much of the damaged vegetation recovers, some economic tree crops may be irrecoverably damaged or lost, while mangrove forests seem to be especially damaged with survey lines remaining open for decades after clearing. The problem is exacerbated by repeat survey exercises over the same area. Subsequent damage to ecosystems follows.

Most significant and clearly visible from the air is the impact of seismic line cutting on the mangrove swamp... It is (the) aerial roots that are subject to the most cutting. Recovery of the cut roots takes 2-3 years, but re-growth of mangrove trees, to make the seismic line indistinguishable from the uncut areas, may take 30 years or more. SPDC fact book of 1993

Seismic Prospecting - Incoming Technicians and labour

Although the prospecting exercises typically last for only a few months, they involve large numbers of incoming labour.

The presence of large numbers of people in usually scarcely populated areas could disturb community life and/or fauna and could cause a waste problem. SPDC fact book of 1993

Seismic Prospecting - Short Term Local Employment

Although any sort of employment ought to be seen as an economic benefit, seismic prospecting exercises typically employ young men from the local community for a few weeks or months only, paying wages that are much higher than they are likely to ever find again. This exacerbates the feelings of discontent and inequality that the oil industry generally brings in its wake.

The main environmental issues: actions and problems (from an SPDC fact book of 1993):

Issue Actions Problems
Seismic lines in mangroves Minimising width lines;
Mangrove Study to identify ecological impact and revegetation measures.
1m width is absolute minimum;
Many data on mangrove available but poor understanding of ecology.
Surveys in 'pristine' areas Minimising impact of clearing (by hand, with/cut restrictions);
EIA for these areas;
Niger Delta Study to Address biodiversity/fauna distribution;
Biodiversity database of sightings by seismic crews.
Biodiversity and biogeographical data scanty or little accessible;
Accessibility areas; Taxonomic problems


Interfaces of drilling activities and the environment (from an SPDC handbook of 1993):

Drilling Activity Interface Potential Environmental Impact
Site preparation Disturbance (clearing, dredging) Loss off vegetation/arable land (s,l)

Change hydrology (s)
High turbidity in creeks (s)

  Soil (dredging, construction) Change sediment budget creeks (s)

Smothering benthos (s)
Dredge spoils (acidification) (s)
Blockages (s)
Community disturbances (s,l)

Transport Noise/ disturbance Banks/roads damaged

Mammal/birds repelled

  Water/soil (spillage) Community disturbances
Drilling Waste/water (mud/cuttings) Smothering benthos, repelling fish (s)
Impact water quality (s)
  Waste/soil (mud/cuttings) Ground water pollution (l)
Impact vegetation (flooding pits) (l);
  Soil/water (spillage)
Repelling mammals/birds
Community disturbances
Testing Air pollution
Hindrance, noise
Greenhouse effect
Ambient air quality
Vegetation damage
  Soil (carry over) Repelling fauna
Soil pollution
Community disturbances

There are eight main specific impacts of drilling.

Drilling - Extent

In the SPDC Eastern Region alone, 1,279 wells had been drilled by 1992 (of which 526 became producing wells). Whilst the areas covered by drilling sites are insignificant the ecological footprint caused by the drilling activity covers a much wider area as the above table suggests.

Drilling - Incoming Technicans and labour

Although drilling typically lasts for only a few months it brings in technicians and labour many of whom live in a camp on the site.

Drilling - The Temporary Drilling Camp

In isolated areas drilling camps are set up to a very high standard of comfort. For instance it may be a houseboat with single or double air-conditioned rooms and a very well stocked canteen and bar. It is often these camps that make local people aware for the first time that the oil industry creates a great deal of wealth; wealth in which they are not sharing despite having to put up with the environmental problems which the industry is creating for them on their door-step.

Drilling - Access

Access to onshore drilling sites has a significant impact because it is at this exploration stage that major access is first made to a site. The impact is especially significant where the site has been previously inaccessible: oil operators testify that the very accessibility of drill sites attracts settlement. Even if the well is dry, access will have been made available for a significant period following abandonment (and clearly the same applies when a production well is worked out).

All the same in certain circumstances and as has been explained above the provision of access may provide economic benefits to local people.


Noise arises from the generators of the drilling camp and from the drilling operation.

Noise levels produced by a rig can be high. Distinction can be made between continuous noise (e.g. generators, production testing) and discontinuous, pulsed noise (handling of equipment). High noise levels could be annoying and injurious to people living close to the site and could expel wildlife off the site. SPDC fact book of 1993

Most people find noise that they cannot control particularly disturbing, and the people of the Niger Delta are no exception.

WHAT IS WRONG?, a true story by Chief Lord: "this used to be a community but things have happened which are bad for health. We used to live to 100 years and over; we grew a lot of food. Then the oil companies came and instead of giving us damages, brought armed forces; and food grew no more because of the oil. It is the same story for the river: no fish. They made communities fight. They made waterfront erosion; the wells became no good and cause disease. The engines make noises and people never have rest and there are the fumes. It is trick: they say there will be light and water, but there is nothing, no damages paid, no transport. The speedboats sink the canoes and taunt the occupants." ERA/ProNatura participatory survey, 1993

Drilling - Flaring

Flaring may occur during drilling where associated gas cannot conveniently be piped to a flow station. For details about flaring, see the production section, 5.3 below.

Drilling - Discharge of Muddy Drilling Fluid Waste in Drainage Systems

Although the Nigerian oil industry does not use chemical (oil based) drilling fluids, the discharge of the muddy drilling fluids (see section 3.4 of the previous chapter) into the neighbouring drainage systems is a serious problem, increasing turbidity and organic matter content often substantially increasing biological oxygen demand. These problems are particularly acute in mangrove environments and during the dry season when flushing rates are low. The 1995 World Bank report estimated that approximately 7 million m³ of drilling waste has been produced in the Niger Delta since oil prospecting began, an average bore hole giving rise to 2,500 m³.

Discharge of waste in the creek (mangrove) will increase the turbidity of the water and sedimentation of solids to the creek bottom and add (depending on the composition of the mud) organic matter, salts and chemicals to the host environment. The possible impact of increased turbidity and sedimentation is similar to the features described for dredging. The high organic matter content will lead to increased bacterial activity. .and could cause lower or even zero oxygen concentrations in parts of the creek, depending on the quantity of organic matter and the current velocity/dispersion rate. The discharge of waste with significantly higher or lower salinity or a different salt composition... than the receiving body could affect animal life.

SPDC fact book of 1993

Drilling - Abandoned Well Linings

If the well proves to be dry, some well linings and cement plugs are left in the ground: see section 3.7 of the previous chapter.


Interfaces of production activities and the environment (from an SPDC handbook of 1993):

Production Activity Interface Potential Environmental Impact
General Disturbance (construction)
Disturbance (infrastructure)
Waste (domestic only)
Loss of vegetation/arable land
Changed hydrology
Communities, flora/fauna (undegradable) waste pits in the field
Well Operations Soil (spillage)
Waste (work over fluids)
Soil, (ground) water pollution
Communities, flora/fauna
Flow/pipelines Soil/water (spillage) Soil, (ground)water pollution
Communities, flora/fauna
Flow stations Air (flare)
Soil (flare, carry over)
Bad ambient air quality
Deposition acid rain/soot/heavy metals
Greenhouse effect
Pollution/fire affection flora/fauna
Communities, flora/fauna
  Noise/hindrance (flare)
Water (effluent)
Soil/surface water quality
Communities, flora/fauna

There are four main specific impacts of oil production.

Production - Flaring

Flaring of associated gas must be considered as the most significant environmental impact of the Nigerian oil industry, both locally and globally. Reference has already been made to the fact that Nigeria flares more of its associated gas than any other oil producing country. And not just a little more only; about 75% of Nigerian oil is flared compared to its nearest competitor in this area, being Libya which is said to flare about 20%. However the 1995 World Bank report suggested a figure of 88%.

Globally, the most serious consequence of this flaring is the emission of about 35 million tons per year of CO2; and, (quoting the World Bank again), considering the low combustion efficiency of Nigerian flares (80%), a large portion of the gas is vented as methane.

Methane and Carbon Dioxide are the major "greenhouse" gases responsible for global warming; and, given that methane has the higher potential to be a greenhouse gas, Nigeria is considered by both the World Bank and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) to be a significant contributor to global warming.


The moon is very cold because it is a long way from the sun; and, yet, the earth, which is the same distance, is warm. This is largely because of the carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere. Heat from the sun passes through the carbon dioxide to the surface of the earth, but when the earth radiates this heat back out into the atmosphere, it is absorbed by the carbon dioxide which then re-radiates in all directions: some goes out into space but some goes back to the earth. As a result the earth is 30-40°C warmer than it would be if there was no carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

This process is called the Greenhouse Effect because it works just like a greenhouse in cold climates. The glass panes of the greenhouse allow the short waves of the sun's heat to pass into the building, but the long-wave heat radiating from the warmed surfaces inside cannot pass out again. Thus the inside of the building becomes a lot warmer than the outside, so that plants can be grown in cold weather.

It follows therefore that if the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing, more heat will be trapped inside the Biosphere and the earth's average temperatures will increase. As a result of burning coal and oil, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing; and, global temperatures have increased by about 0.45°C since 1900; and, mostly since 1940. This may seem insignificant, but it is enough to have caused the shrinking of Alpine and Polar ice caps causing a sea level rise of about 1.5mm per year over the same period. These processes are complex and not fully understood, but they appear to be accelerating.

Carbon dioxide is not the only Greenhouse gas. It makes up about 55% of the total. Pollutants from air-conditioners and refrigerators (Chloroflurocarbons - CFCs) make up about 20%; and, Methane makes up 15%. Gas flaring in the Niger Delta is considered to be a major source of Greenhouse gases.

FROM THE SWISS AGENCY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT FORESTS AND LANDSCAPE – SEPTEMBER 1997: The (2) most important greenhouse gases resulting from man’s activities: Carbon dioxide (CO₂)
Natural concentration in the atmosphere 280 ppm
Increase in concentration since the beginning of industrialisation 30%
Lifetime in the atmosphere 50-200 years
Global Warming Potential 1 (i.e. CO₂)
Contribution to increasing natural greenhouse effect 75%
Main cause (globally) for its increase in concentration Fossil fuels
Main source of its emissions in Switzerland Fossil fuels (91%)

FROM THE SWISS AGENCY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT FORESTS AND LANDSCAPE – SEPTEMBER 1997: The (2) most important greenhouse gases resulting from man's activities: Methane (CH4)
Natural concentration in the atmosphere 0.7 ppm
Increase in concentration since the beginning of industrialisation 145%
Lifetime in the atmosphere 12 years
Global Warming Potential 21 (CO₂ = 1)
Contribution to increasing natural greenhouse effect 16%
Main cause (globally) for its increase in concentration Farm animals, and Paddy fields
Main source of its emissions in Switzerland Farm animals (61%)


How is the global climate changing?

Change in the global mean temperature of the air at ground level is most often used as a measure of climate change. The Hadley Centre at the University of East Anglia continue to update and refine the global temperature record as a contribution to IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). . . . .(In) the almost 140 years since credible global measurements have been maintained (the) increase in temperatures has been uneven, but a steady rise over the last two decades has made the 1990s some 0.6 degrees C warmer than the late 1800s. Nine of the ten warmest years have occurred since 1980; 1995 is the warmest years so far, but it seems likely that 1977 will be close to this record. In addition to long-term trends, there are large changes from year to year and decade to decade, largely due to natural interactions between the atmosphere and the oceans, and partly because of other external influences such as volcanic dust and changes in the sun's output.

A rarely mentioned impact of flaring is the way that they light up the night sky. Most small communities, and a number of larger ones, do not have electricity so that, at night, in many places, there is a strange contrast between the general darkness of a village and the pulsating glow of nearby flares. This is particularly impressive around Nembe and in the Okrika area; and, used to be the case in many parts of Ogoni.

Production and Flowlines

Because of the intensity and extent of the oil industry in the Niger Delta, pipelines which carry bulked crude oil from the flow stations to the oil terminals, and the flowlines which carry the oil/gas/water mixtures from the well-heads to the flow-stations, are everywhere, mostly above ground. Even if they were maintained to North American/European standards they would constitute a great inconvenience and potential danger, as it is they present five environmental problems as follows.

  • Their omnipresence is a major barrier to foot communications, a primary method of movement in the Niger Delta: the pipelines present both a legal barrier, because the land across which they pass is alienated by the oil companies; and, also a physical barrier (unless they are buried). The flowlines run in batches across farmland, leap streams and intrude into villages. Ironically where the flowlines leap a stream they can be used as a precarious foot-bridge, but an abiding impression of the Niger Delta countryside is of women farmers head-loading produce back to the village after a day's farming and negotiating the flowlines with an elegant skill.
    • They take land away where they run across farmland.
    • They involve the clearing of vegetation and thus damage ecosystems where they run across forests. And, here it must be appreciated that the impact upon ecosystems goes beyond the actual area cleared. For instance, not only may access be enabled to areas otherwise relatively inaccessible, but also, forest temperature, light and moisture conditions will be altered on either side of the line.
    • They are badly maintained. Pipelines burst from time to time spreading crude oil over large areas. Flowlines generally leak because they are not replaced on schedule, and also burst, sending out fountains of emulsified oil and gas because they are under pressure.
    Age in Years % of Leaks Number of Flowlines
    0-5 2.5% 115
    6-10 2.5% 49
    11-15 12% 102
    16-20 29% 168
    21-25 54 465
    From Programme and budget presentation to joint venture partners by SPDC, issued 9/24/93
    • The potential danger is increased because pipe and flowlines intrude into villages. Oddly, the oil companies maintain that originally pipelines and flow lines are initially sited away from settlements, as if, over forty years, the expansion of settlement areas was not anticipated.

    15.5.4 TERMINALS

    The main environmental impact at the terminals is the continuous discharge of large volumes of water with low oil concentrations of oil. Concentrations in the magnitude of 7 ppm according to the SPDC fact book off 1993.

    15.5.5 REFINERIES

    The refineries at Warri and Port Harcourt are both badly maintained. The World Bank report of 1995 suggests that better maintenance would reduce their polluting habits. The refining process produces a hazardous sludge. In Warri this is deposited in a neighbouring swamp. In Port Harcourt it is dumped into the Bonny River.

    According to the World Bank report, the refinery in Port Harcourt generates all the NOx (Nitrogen oxides) emissions in the city and 25% of the industrial particulate emissions. In Warri, metal concentrations in soil were found to be elevated above the background as follows:

    • Chromium – 3 times at 44 ppm;
    • Lead - 4 times at 20 ppm;
    • Zinc - 4 times at 119 ppm;
    • Copper - 6 times at 43 ppm;
    • Nickel - 7 times at 7 ppm; and
    • Cadmium - 7 times at 44 ppm.


    As a summary of the impact of the oil industry on the Niger Delta it needs to be looked at in cold economic terms.

    Oil is THE issue throughout the Niger Delta. As is explained in the last chapter, oil is the basis of Nigeria's wealth, and the export upon which the country is dependent. Oil exports make up over 90% of Nigeria's export income, and the government can expect revenues in the order of US$ 20 million a day.


    Because oil is, and will continue to be, the prime source of wealth for Nigeria as a whole, and the revenue base upon which the federal government rests, it is the nucleus of all political strategy. In the Niger Delta all political issues centre around who is to have what proportion of the oil wealth.

    Federal legislation is unambiguous about ownership: according to the Land Use Act (originally the Land Use Decree) of 1978 all land is held in trust by the Federal Government, and administered by the governor of each state, who acts as the landlord. Oil companies are granted Oil Mining Leases by the Federal Government, under the Petroleum Decree No. 51 of 1969 and negotiate with the governor of the relevant state, as the Federal Government's representative, about land requirements. Thereafter local governments are effectively only informed about the developments in their areas, and local people are, sometimes, informed about what compensation they will receive for crops lost. In reality they receive no compensation for loss of farmland and very little or nothing is received for crops lost.

    Generally the local people are ignored by the oil industry. Except for a few token projects (often replacing facilities lost in the construction of oil industry infrastructure) and ex-gratia payments, sometimes quite large, paid to influential individuals, none of the oil wealth reaches the communities in the oil producing areas in the Niger Delta. On the contrary, they appear to be the net losers, bearing most of the environmental costs of oil extraction.


    Oil extraction severely conflicts with the exploitation of other resources primarily in the way that it affects water resources. The irony is that if the oil industry took the same care as it takes elsewhere, for instance in North America and in the United Kingdom, there would be much less conflict: despite the pollution caused by the subsequent mis-use of oil products, oil extraction can be a clean industry and there is no reason why it should not be clean in Nigeria and the Niger Delta. Unfortunately it is not, and Nigeria has one of the worst records for on and offshore oil spills in the world. But an oil spill, disastrous as it may be locally and in the short-term, will be repaired by a healthy ecosystem especially in the hot humid tropics where biological cycles are fast.

    What harms water resources in the longer run is the construction of badly designed canals ("slots") to provide access to well-heads and flow stations, and to provide short-cuts in meandering rivers, in swamps and riverine locations.

    Also badly designed roads built by the oil industry can kill swamp and flood plain forests by upsetting local drainage.


    The obvious cost is pressure on environmental systems is three-fold:

    • Direct pollution such as offshore and on-shore spillage, gas flaring and abandoned installations.
    • Alteration of the environment by activities such as the construction of access slots, pipelines, flowlines, roads, drilling sites and wellheads.
    • Pollution and alteration of the environment by other primary and by secondary and tertiary industries encouraged by the oil industry.

    More insidious costs include the build up of heavy metals in ground-water, changes in soil acidity caused by atmospheric pollution and disruption to local communities and their relationship with their natural resources.

    Social disruption and equity imbalance is another major cost of the oil industry, the political manifestations of which are: local political opposition to the oil industry; general lawlessness in the "oil cities" (e.g. Warri and Port Harcourt); fighting between tribal groups; the prevalent spontaneous outbreaks of communal violence against authority; and the well documented massacres of civilians in oil producing areas by the military authorities.

    Undoubtedly, to some extent, the problems of communities in the oil belt have to be faced by all communities under-going rapid economic re-adjustment, and also some of the political unrest may be no more than a negotiating position. Nonetheless there does seem to be a local realisation of an imbalance between the local communities who appear to bear a considerable proportion of the economic costs, (omitting the substantial financial investment of the oil industry) and the beneficiaries who are the oil companies, consumers, and the government as the recipient of taxation.

    As a measurement of the fairness of the oil industry to the communities in the Niger Delta one could simply compare the economic costs with the economic benefits:

    • Costs to the local community beyond what might be expected without the oil industry: as described in 14.6.1 above; loss of the oil asset; increased competition for resources from immigrants; increase in lawlessness; disruption to community life; and the safety hazards of functional and abandoned oil installations.
    • Benefits to the local community beyond what might be expected without the oil industry: job and training opportunities; potential increase in allocation of the federal budget; useful assets discarded by the oil industry; improved communications in the oil fields; and availability of industries, services and facilities encouraged by the oil industry.
    • A proper cost benefit analysis might suggest a net benefit or a net disbenefit. However, the real test would be to assess what the local communities will have when the oil industry departs: the oil will have gone;

    • many renewable natural resources degraded, some irrevocably; pollution;
    • communities and their relationship with the environment dislocated; and
    • a lot of wasting assets (roads, bridges, buildings, services) without an economy to maintain them.

    The economic costs might be deemed acceptable if oil revenue was, on the whole, remaining in the oil belt to create a viable agricultural and industrial economy: it is not. The costs might be deemed acceptable if the oil revenue was being invested outside to produce an income in the future: it is not.

    If one assumes that the environmental problems that have been attributed to the oil industry are exaggerated, then the oil industry might justifiably say that it pays its taxes and thus it is up to the government, as the representatives of the local people, to use those taxes wisely. The industry could go on to say that if the tax revenue is not used wisely then the resultant local discontent is the responsibility of the government not of the oil industry.

    Nonetheless, in the absence of government initiatives, it is in the financial interests of the oil industry to combat local discontent because demonstrations, strikes and civil disorder, incur three high costs to the oil industry that share-holders might reasonably question: damage to capital assets; down time; and lost production.