ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION & ECONOMIC IMPACT OF OIL EXPLORATION IN ISOKOLAND.
Presented by Matthew A. Efole
At the 2ND NATIONAL CONVENTION
OF THE ISOKO ASSOCIATION OF NORTH AMERICA
Quality Hotel, Hempstead, New York City, USA,
Friday, July 30th to Sunday, August 1st, 2004.
I consider it an honour to be invited to address this August assemblage of Isoko sons and daughters, and friends of Isoko on the 2nd Annual National Convention of Isoko Association of North America. I congratulate members of the Association for their foresight in organising this memorable event, the first of which took place in the State of California in 2003. It is indeed with profound humility that I accept the privilege to speak on this vexed subject of Environmental degradation and Economic impact of oil exploration in Isokoland.
I am not an authority on the oil industry. Indeed no one needs to be before the full impact of the activities of oil companies on the economy and environment of the host communities are noticed.
Before now, any effort at opening a new vista of qualitative debates, focused on the several socio-economic and political problems and prospects in the Niger Delta region as a whole. No attempt appears to have been made to focus such debate on Isokoland with the objective of highlighting the great potential of Isokoland and the urgent developmental needs of this vital geopolitical ethnic nationality. It is conceded however, that the environmental and economic impact of oil exploration in Isokoland cannot be discussed in isolation from what obtains in the larger sphere of the Niger Delta region – one of the most richly endowed and yet one of the least developed regions in Nigeria.
In its present composition, the Niger Delta covers the six states of the South-South namely; Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-River, Delta (in which Isokoland is situated), Edo and Rivers. This is so even though the definition given the Niger Delta by the Sir Henry Wilkins Commission Report of 1957 (three years before Nigeria’s sovereignty) is much narrower. However, the legislation on the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, in year 2000 has further extended frontiers of the Niger Delta to include Abia, Imo and Ondo States, thus making the political map of the Niger Delta to comprise nine states.
The rich flora and fauna of the area have supplied the immediate source of livelihood for the people of the region for many generations. For so long, the people there lived in harmony, and there was evident balance in the ecosystem.
Like the rest of the Niger Delta, wetlands and water bodies with creeks and rivers criss-crossing the entire region characterize Isokoland. The higher-lying plains experience 5-7 months of flooding in the year, resulting from the overflowing waters of the lower Niger River in which whole communities and farmlands are invariably submerged. Flooding and riverbank or coastal erosion is the bane of the people. Isokoland, though located a little to the upland of the Niger Delta, is, no doubt, a difficult, if not an out rightly inclement terrain. However, the region is endowed with enormous natural resources, as it is with the rest of the delta which has the world’s third largest mangrove forest with the most extensive freshwater swamp forest and tropical rainforest characterized by great biological diversity. Alongside the immense potential for agricultural revolution, Isokoland also has vast reserves of non-renewable natural resources including clay pits for burnt bricks making for the construction industry, and silica sand for the glass manufacturing industry which have however, remained largely untapped.
Part of a World Bank report following a visit to the Niger Delta in 1952 and 1953, which included Isokoland, declared that the region has great prospects to feed the entire population of the West Africa sub-region and have sufficient commodities for export. Some of the produce highlighted by the report includes palm oil and cassava, which are in abundance throughout Isokoland.
Yet, Isokoland remains pervasively poor and underdeveloped, lacking virtually all forms of social amenities and infrastructure, including electricity, potable water, medical facilities, roads, shelter, etc. The area suffers a regrettable legacy of hunger, high and rising rates of unemployment, communal conflict, youth restiveness and all forms of social insecurity; of course, a fate which befalls all of the Niger Delta. Like the withering plants in autumn, the swamps and mangrove forests in the Niger Delta have lost their essence. They are dying before their time. The people of the area have continued to complain bitterly about mass poverty, hunger and disease, environmental degradation and loss of their means of livelihood. No one seems to be listening!
The fact that these issues are still staring us in the face indicate general neglect of the Niger Delta, which now challenges our sense of justice and precipitates the quest for fairness. Given Isokoland’s sensitive and fragile ecosystem and, in spite of the vast resource endowment, its immense potential for socio-economic growth and its contribution to the overall development of Nigeria, it remains increasingly under threat from rapidly deteriorating economic and environmental conditions as well as social tension.
Brief history of oil exploration in Isokoland
The story of oil exploration in Isokoland started in Uzere in the 1960's. Today, Isokoland has about 15 flow stations and an estimated average daily production of 150,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Shell Petroleum Development Company (SDPC) is the multi-national oil company actively involved in the exploration and production of oil and gas in Isokoland. Of course, SPDC is the largest of the multi-national oil companies in Nigeria, and operates a join venture (owning 30%) with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) holding 55% Elf (French) holding 10% and Agip (Italian) holding 5%. SPDC discovered the first commercial oil field in the Niger Delta in 1956. The first exportation of oil began in 1958. The Federal government acquired 35% of the company in 1973 and formed the basis of the joint venture operation. SPDC produces almost half of the country’s oil from over 90 oil fields in the Niger Delta. It supplies 95% of the country’s commercial gas. The oil-mining lease covers 31,000 square kilometres and contains more than half of the country’s oil and gas reserves. There are more than 1,000 wells, 87 production stations, 7 gas plants, and two large oil terminals at Forcados and Bonny. The company has two divisions based in Warri, Delta State, and Port Harcourt, Rivers State, plus an ultra-modern corporate headquarters in Lagos - a city outside of its operational base. Indeed, due to the perennial crisis in the Warri area, SPDC is moving its Western operational Headquarters from Warri to Port Harcourt.
Isokoland is a constituent part of the largest delta in Africa and home of Nigeria’s oil industry, which contains an abundant supply of natural resources, inclusive of one of the finest oil in the world. Nigerian crude is a light blend, which makes it a popular crude throughout the world (USA especially). It is ideally suited for manufacturing into many refined products as well as for mixing in refineries with heavier crude from other countries. Nigeria’s production of oil in 2003 was in the region of 2.5 million barrels per day. The Nigeria nation-state is reputed to have earned $20trillion from oil production in the Niger Delta, since 1958. Of this amount, it is estimated that Isokoland contributed between $700billion and $900billion. In spite of this, Isokoland like the rest of Niger Delta area continues to be in an under-developed state, with the average village ‘family’ living on less than the equivalent of U$ 300 per year.
Nigeria like most other less developed countries in the early part of the 70’s was engaged in intensive natural resource exploitation as a way of stimulating economic growth. It was projected by several multilateral funding organisations, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that export drive of primary resource materials will eventually lead to economic growth and subsequently a significant reduction in the level of poverty. The projection was that the long-term gain of such a process would set the stage for a sustained economic development. As at 1976, about 20 years after the start of oil exploration, figures available from the Federal Office of Statistics stated that oil has come to account for about 84% of the national gross domestic product (GNP) of Nigeria, 95% of the total export, and over 80% of government annual revenue. Total export peaked at two million barrels of crude oil per day with price range of $18-$22 per barrel. This created more opportunity for the development of new oil fields; increased granting of mining licenses and the intensive exploitation of oil mineral resources in Isokoland.
The multinational oil companies made huge investments in the oil sector, which was quite technological and capital intensive. New laws were made which included the Petroleum Act of 1969 and the Land Use Act of 1978. These two legislations by the all-too-powerful central government, were primarily aimed at depriving ethnic minorities of the Niger Delta the right to control their God given resources and, also, to regulate community or open access to communal land, besides being promulgated to restrict access to such land; while at the same time making it possible for the multinational investors to have unrestricted access to explore for oil unchallenged, even on sacred land. These short-changing of the peoples rights, without basic considerations of natural justice and the fact that no nation whose laws are founded on injustice ever thrives, have led to a series of social conflicts between the communities and the State/Oil companies.
Impact of oil exploration on the environment
Oil ‘exploration and exploitation’ has over the last four decades had a disastrous impact on the physical environment of the oil-bearing communities in Isokoland, massively threatening the subsistence peasant economy, the environment and hence the entire livelihood and basic survival of the people. Suffice it to note that, while oil extraction has caused negative socio-economic and environmental problems in Isokoland, the Nigerian State has benefited immensely from petroleum since it was discovered in commercial quantities in 1956. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) 1981 annual report stated as follows, "Oil which was first discovered in 1956 and first exported in 1958 accounted for more than 90% of Nigerian exports by value and about 80% of government revenue as at December 31, 1981.... The overall contribution of the oil sector to the national economy also grew from an insignificant 0.1% in 1959 to 95% in 1976." There has been no margin of difference since then in the nation’s economic index.
There is no doubt that the Nigerian oil industry has affected the country in a variety of ways at the same time. On one hand, it has fashioned a remarkable economic landscape for the country, however on the negative side, petroleum exploration and production also have adverse effects on the environment of the host communities and the subsistence fishing and farming, which are the traditional means of livelihood of the people. If the oil industry in Nigeria is considered in view of its enormous contribution to foreign exchange earnings, it has achieved a remarkable success. On the other scale, when considered in respect of it's negative impact on the socio-economic life and the environment of the immediate oil bearing local communities and its inhabitants, it has left a balance sheet of ecological and socio-physical disaster.
In Isokoland, the evil impact of the Petroleum Act of 1969 and the Land Use Act of 1978 is visible in the life of the people. Agriculture forms the most dominant economic activity of Isoko communities. As in the wider Niger Delta area, the Federal Office of Statistics (F.O.S) in 1985 stated that Crop farming and fishing activities account for about 90% of all forms of activities in the area. They also estimated that about 50%-68% of the active labour force are engaged in one form of agricultural activity or the other including fishing and farming. Agricultural technology has remained relatively unchanged over the years and over 90% of the farmers are subsistent farmers operating on traditional methods using basic tools. Farming techniques, in the various Isoko communities, still remained the use of land rotation or bush fallow system characterised by land and labour being the principal inputs of production. The organic farming technique widely used is highly susceptible to environmental changes affecting the soil, water and or deforestation because it is not technologically inspired, but rather land and labour intensive. Oil extraction and production has led to adverse environmental impact on the soil, forest and water of Isoko communities. Various harmful and toxic organic compounds when introduced into the natural environment during oil extraction such as during seismic work, oil spill, gas flares and several other forms of pollution, changes the geo-chemical composition of the soil, river and other components of the environment. This in turn affects agriculture and leads to a drastic decline in output in both fishing and farming activities. This has ultimately affected peasant agriculture in a variety of ways, which ultimately have caused problems of environmental refugees. The peasants are very reactive to these changes because of the unavailability of modern farming and fishing techniques to meet the challenges of a declining soil and marine resources. The drastic fall in output of agricultural production leads to intensive exploitation of other fertile land. The long run effect of this is land degradation and migration of peasant farmers to other rural and urban areas, where pressure is exerted on the often inadequate and dilapidated infrastructure, leading to increased poverty.
Apart from degradation and of loss of farms, oil spills have led to extensive deforestation with no adequate replanting practices; this in effect has shortened fallow periods, compounded land use degradation and led to a loss of soil fertility and consequently erosion of the topsoil. The slash and burn agriculture traditionally practised by shifting cultivators in Isokoland is based on ecologically sound principles and minimises threats to the forest by leaving land fallow over periods of time long enough for regeneration. But landless peasants who have been forced from their own lands, increase the number of people pursuing such a subsistence life style, this contributes to deforestation through further encroachment on forestland and reductions in fallow times.
The out-migration of displaced rural farmers in Isokoland as a result of environmental degradation caused by oil extraction in the region has led to a significant percentage of the local inhabitants to remain in cyclical poverty and penury. This has meant greater environmental degradation as a result of the intensive exploitation of the few remaining fertile land in the region by the residents. It has also led to increasing urban blight in the urban areas in Delta State as more and more displaced rural inhabitants flood the urban areas in search of non-existing jobs. Thus, some of the environmental problems associated with oil exploration and production in Isokoland could be summarised as:
Contamination of streams and rivers
In the course of oil exploration and production in Isokoland, various materials are released into the environment. For example during exploration, drill cuttings, drill mud and fluids are used for stimulating production.
The problem of oil spill
Transportation and marketing, damage to oil pipelines and accidents involving road trucks and tankers generate oil spills and hydrocarbon emissions which have a far more reaching effect, because the toxic nature of the oil adversely affects the soil, plant, animal and water resources.
Forest destruction and bio-diversity loss
The major constituents of drill cuttings such as barites and bentonite clays when dumped on the ground prevent plant growth until natural processes develop new topsoil. In water, these materials disperse and sink, killing marine life.
The Environmental Effect of Gas Flaring
As a by-product of oil production, Nigeria flares more gas than any other country in the world. Gas flaring in Olomoro and Uzere flow stations has recorded its environmental impact on the natives and surrounding communities. It is worth putting on record that the havoc done by gas flaring to Isoko communities and its environs is unprintable. We have suffered the destruction of our vegetation, including vital medical plants, destruction of wildlife and destruction of farm crops. Air pollution and acid rain from oil exploitation activities have inflicted on our people respiratory diseases, leading to loss of lives. Some of the environmental impact indicators of acid rain that have resulted from gas flaring are summarised below.
· Plant growth is generally suppressed with reduction in agricultural productivity near flare sites thus creating localised deserts. The constant heat being emitted from the flare sites make the soil of the adjacent farmland hot. The high intensity flame at flare sites usually scares wildlife and game animals.
· Deposits of Nitrogen Oxides and carbon monoxide have been identified as key pollutants stimulating extensive algal growth, which creates biodiversity loss, by killing fish and shellfish.
· Long-lingering foul odour of the ponds due to low oxygen level. This type of water may be incapable of supporting marine life.
· Corrosion of corrugated iron sheets used for roofing leading to short life span, destruction of foundations, etc.
· Added to the huge loss of revenue is the growing environmental concern resulting from the impact of flaring and carbon dioxide emission on the global warming phenomenon and ozone depletion.
Effluent Discharge and Disposal
Refinery waste also contains very toxic chemicals, which constitutes potential land, water and air pollutants. Atmospheric contaminants from refinery operations in nearby Warri include oxides of nitrogen, carbon and sulphur. Liquid refinery effluents usually contain oil and grease. These compounds contain organic chemicals such as phenol cyanide, sulphide-suspended solids, chromium and biological oxygen demanding organic matter, which on getting in contact with land and water pollute them.
Economic impact of oil exploration in Isokoland
Arising from oil exploration also, is the gross socio-economic impact. Isoko communities have remained grossly socio-economically underdeveloped and pauperised amidst the immense oil wealth owing to systematic dis-equilibrium in the production exchange relationship between the Nigeria nation-state, the trans-national companies and the people. Enormous money had been derived from oil export but the area has been subjected to severe land degradation, socio-economic disorganisation, increasing poverty, misery, military occupation and bloody violence. Oil extraction has impacted most disastrously on the socio-physical environment of Isoko oil bearing communities, massively threatening the fragile subsistent peasant economy and bio-diversity and hence their entire social livelihood and very survival. The oil producing communities have basically remained dependent and underdeveloped, economically marginalized and psychologically alienated. The wealth derived from oil resource exploitation and exports benefit directly only the operators of the oil industry and the bureaucrats in government.
Conflict between oil companies and host communities
Of the two most appropriating external systems, that is, the government and the multi-national oil companies, the oil companies are in more direct and physical contact with the communities and their expropriated inhabitants. The deprived peasants currently make demand for social services from the oil companies, than they can make from the often-inaccessible Nigerian State. This has often led to conflict as the oil companies are engaged in the process of collaborating with the Nigerian regime to use violence as a means of placating the protesting communities.
Persistent intra and inter-communal conflict
Oil exploration and exploitation over the last four decades have also instigated and intensified bitter and bloody conflicts between emerging interest groups within and between communities. This conflict now rages between elite groups and between youth organisations on one hand, between the urban resident elite and the village community resident on the other scale. All said the conflict that has emerged in Isokoland as a result of the extraction of oil has its roots in the violation of the rights of the local community people as a result of the promulgation of obnoxious legislation and the cumulative effect of poverty among the people.
The way forward
The need for adequate compensation to meet the environmental challenge of developing Isokoland is indeed a great one. By no means will anybody envisage easy solutions to one single enclave like Isoko - a land that defines wealth and poverty simultaneously. However, while it is exceedingly late in many respects for certain measures to work, a lot can still be achieved if deliberate and determined steps are taken to halt the time bomb from ticking. It is therefore my opinion that the following suggestions be considered.
The Federal and State Governments should cultivate the necessary political will to develop this long neglected area of the Niger Delta. This can be done in collaboration with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). To this end I itemise hereunder, key developmental projects which should be considered:
1. Economic enablers upon which all other sectors are dependent
- Road network, railways, waterways
- Electricity and power
- Water supply
2. Income generators for economic well being
3. Intellectual capital (socio-political-cultural advancement)
TheThe draconian laws concerning oil and gas and land use should either be abrogated outright or amended to foster accelerated development. The 1999 Constitution; the Land Use Act; the Oil Mineral Acts among others exist to prevent dialogue among the various peoples of Nigeria.
For equity to reign in Nigeria, the centre should give up some of its powers to the federating units. At the moment, the centre represents injustice to millions of minorities in Nigeria especially the Isoko people.
The 1999 Constitution should be amended to remove oil and gas matters from the exclusive legislative list and placed on the concurrent legislative list. This will enhance improved relations between oil and gas companies and their oil bearing host communities, which are largely manipulated and short-changed.
The oil and gas companies should either alone or in partnership with the oil-producing communities in Isokoland embark upon small and medium scale industries. This will provide employment opportunities to the restive youths in Isokoland. It should be a deliberate policy of Government to offer employment to qualified indigenes of host communities, not only as operatives, but also in decision-making positions. The policy of 45% local content proposed for the industry should be faithfully implemented.
The oil and gas companies should ensure the integrity of their pipelines and, in times of spillage, the best industry technology should be employed to effect remediation. Oil production is pivotal to the Nigerian economy and it will be illogical to promote and implement environmental standards that will negate the survival of the industry. However, all industrialised societies must find ways to achieve a reasonable balance between the cost of attaining zero discharge, the impact of environmental rules on economic growth, and making essential trade-offs between environmental protection, economic growth and energy resources. These three elements contain the key to the level and quality of life in Isokoland.
The Federal and State governments and private investors (foreign and local) should set up industries around the commodities and raw materials obtainable in Isokoland; such as rice, palm oil, cassava, fish, sharp sand industries, etc.
In addressing the environmental challenges facing Isokoland adequately, it would be advisable to start from the rural communities, which constitute over 70 % of the region's total population, and harbours most of the oil wells. All the problems associated with oil and gas exploration ranging from environmental degradation, loss of farmland and marine life are solely borne by the rural dwellers. It is therefore necessary that basic amenities be provided for them with some degree of urgency.
Environmental degradation and the economic backwardness in Isokoland, in my candid opinion can only be addressed by a caring government whose citizens’ welfare is uppermost in its agenda.
One of the biggest challenges facing Isoko people and its leaders lies in designing an appropriate political and economic framework that will ensure the protection of local communities. Isoko sons and daughters must come together and pull resources for regional development. The 13% derivation fund is considered to be a veritable source of funds for the development of Isokoland. I am convinced that a judicious utilisation of the fund, backed by unfaltering political will by all stakeholders will certainly lead to the actualisation of our developmental goals.
Above all, governments of the region and special Government intervention agencies such as NDDC must rise to the challenge of providing the needed infrastructure to meet the yearnings of our people for a better life. The region's inability to meet the real needs of the people, the frustrations arising from the insensitivity of the central government and to some extent the international community and donor institutions, as to their real predicament may be following a familiar pattern that urgently needs to be reversed.
As we gather here to discuss the issues affecting our beloved motherland, I invite all Isoko sons and daughters to deliberate on the challenges facing us as a people and help to construct a Blue Print for the development of Isokoland.
Thank you and God bless Isokoland.