[BLOG] Oil Production And Environmental Damage
Although much of the world depends on the production or the trade of oil to fuel its economies, these activities can cause severe damage to the environment, either knowingly or unintentionally. Oil production, and/or transportation, can disrupt the human population, animals and fish life of the oil producing region. Oil waste dumping, production and spills wreak havoc on the surrounding wildlife and habitat. It threatens the extinction of several plants, and has already harmed many land, air, and sea animal and plant species in many oil producing countries in Africa.
The effects of oil on marine life are cause by either the physical nature of the oil or by its chemical components. Marine life may also be affected by clean-up operations or indirectly through physical damage to the habitats in which plants and animals live. The animals and plants most at risk are those that could come into contact with a contaminated sea surface; marine animals and reptiles; birds that feed by diving or form flocks on the sea; marine life on shorelines; and animals and plants in Mari-culture facilities.
Runoffs from petroleum processing and petrochemical plants have dumped tons of toxic wastes into nearby waters. Gas and oil pipelines have stanched many streams and rivers, swamping prime pastures and cropland. Furthermore, entire bays and lagoons along coasts have been fouled by oil spills and runoff of toxic chemicals.
The environmental damage that is a result of oil retraction and production can also directly affect human life in the region. Damage can include pollution of water resources and contamination of the soil. Humans are affected by environmental devastation because it is damaging to vegetation, livestock, and to the health of the human body itself. Oil spills can interfere with the normal working of power stations and plants that require a continuous supply of clean seawater and with the safe operation of coastal industries and ports.
Environmental damage can also be as a result of conflict over oil-producing regions. Environmental harm associated with oil resources can either be attributed to a side effect of conflict, or, in some cases, it is associated with military aggression that is intended to damage the natural resources of the country.
Despite these negative effects of the production of oil on the environment, it has helped cushion the economies of many countries in the world. Oil has been an important part of the Nigerian economy since vast reserves of petroleum were discovered in Nigeria in the 1950s. The International Energy Agency (IEA), in 2008 reported that revenues from Nigeria’s oil have increased from 219 million Naira in 1970 to 10.6 billion Naira in 1979. Shell Oil operates many of its oil facilities in the oil-rich Delta region of Nigeria. Considerable attention has been drawn to the environmental damage caused by oil spills in the Niger Delta. According to the Nigerian National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, approximately ‘2,400 oil spills had been reported between 2006 and 2010 that resulted from sabotage, bunkering and poor infrastructure.’ The amount of oil spilled in Nigeria has been estimated to be around 260,000 barrels per year for the past 50 years according to a report cited in the New York Times.
The Ogonis, an ethnic group that predominate in the Delta region of Nigeria, have protested that Shell's oil production has not only devastated the local environment, but has destroyed the economic viability of the region for local farmers and producers. The Nigerian Federal Government, on the other hand, has been charged with failing to enact and enforce environmental protections against oil damage by Shell and other oil companies. Furthermore, many Ogonis have been harassed and even killed by the Federal government for organizing protests and threatening sabotage of oil facilities.
Oil production in Nigeria has had severe environmental and human consequences for the indigenous peoples who inhabit the areas surrounding oil extraction. In 2010, Nigeria exported oil Nigeria's export of approximately 2.2 million bbl/d of total oil and 1.8 million bbl/d of crude in 2010 comes from 12% of the country's land, and indigenous minority communities in these areas receive no economic benefits. Indigenous groups are actually further impoverished due to environmental degradation from oil production and the lack of adequate regulations on multinational companies, as they become more vulnerable to food shortages, health hazards, loss of land, pollution, forced migration and unemployment.
The social and environmental costs of oil production have been extensive. They include destruction of wildlife and biodiversity, loss of fertile soil, pollution of air and drinking water, degradation of farmland and damage to aquatic ecosystems, all of which have caused serious health problems for the inhabitants of areas surrounding oil production. Pollution is caused by gas flaring, above ground pipeline leakage; oil waste dumping and oil spills. More recently, the United Nations Environment Program documented that approximately 75% of gas produced is flared annually causing considerable ecological and physical damage to other resources such as land/soil, water and vegetation. Gas flares, which are often times situated close to villages, produce stains which is deposited on building roofs of neighboring villages. Whenever it rains, the stain is washed off and the black ink-like water running from the roofs is believed to contain chemicals which adversely affect the fertility of the soil.
Oil spills and the dumping oil into waterways have been extensive, often poisoning drinking water and destroying vegetation. According to an independent record of Shell's spills from 1982 to 1992, 1,626,000 gallons were spilt from the company's Nigerian operations in 27 separate incidences. Of the number of spills recorded from Shell; a company which operates in more than 1000 countries - 40% were in Nigeria.
Shell is also being accused of engaging in "widespread ecological disturbances, including explosions from seismic surveys, pollution from pipe-line leaks, blowouts, drilling fluids and refinery effluents, and land alienation and disruption of the natural terrain from construction of industry infrastructure and installations". For example, oil spill contamination of the top soil has rendered the soil in the surrounding areas "unsuitable for plant growth by reducing the availability of nutrients or by increasing toxic contents in the soil.” Gas flaring; on the other hand, "has been associated with reduced crop yield and plant growth on nearby farms, and disruption of wildlife in the immediate vicinity". Shell and other oil companies have developed an easy and inexpensive way to deal with by-products from oil drilling: "indiscriminate dumping".
In an IEA report, the crisis over environmental pollution and economic marginalization from the oil industry reached a peak in January 1993 when 300,000 Ogoni protested against Shell Oil. This organized protest was followed by repeated harassment, arrests, and killing of Ogonis by Federal government troops
Through these cases and several large oil spills that have happened in recent years, the world is beginning to realize the environmental consequences that arise from the economic dependence on oil resources. However, under the existing conditions, there is only so much that can be achieved. Even if companies and governments would make a total effort towards environmental safety, significant accidents will still occur. Industries can make strides toward reducing the damage on resources that people use and on the wildlife and habitats. Industries cannot, however, completely prevent accidents, such as an oil spill into rivers or oceans, from happening.
Furthermore, environmental damage that occurs as a result of conflict cannot be completely prevented either. If oil resources are present during fighting, then they may be accidentally or deliberately damaged. In fact, deliberate attacks on oil resources and production, with resulting environmental devastation, could be common in future international conflicts. The incessant demand by Western region Chiefs for a 10 share of the oil revenue could be a prelude to future aggression. As such, we must take cue from what had happened in other oil producing countries on issues relating to the environment.
In order to remedy some of the oil and gas effect on the environment, the government of Ghana through its parliament must enact and enforce stringent environment protection laws. As the case stands now, the best tool Ghanaians of any political persuasion could use to fight bribery and corruption and to check whether our administrators at the helm of affairs are indeed, doing the bidding of ordinary Ghanaians, is to press on parliament for the speedy passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill to law.
With the country’s mounting national debt and the much anticipated oil wealth already shrouded in political confusion, the country needs the FOI Act if our present and future generation stand any chance of benefitting from the oil wealth. It is, however, defensible to suggest that with FOI law in place, Ghanaians would have found out quickly who at Ghana National Petroleum Corporation passed oil exploration seismic data to the E. O. Group for onward transfer to Kosmos Energy. In short, the FOI will not ‘arm’ any individual or group of persons against any public official, but rather has the capacity to enhance transparency in public decision-making and execution of policies that will in the long run inure to the betterment of the life of all and sundry.
This article was originally posted on Africa Oil & Mining Network