History of Petroleum Exploration in Niger Delta
Petroleum exploration began as early as 1908, when the German company Bitumen Corporation, began prospecting for tar sand deposits in the South and Western regions of Nigeria. The venture quickly ended after the initial phase citing that there was not enough commercial quantity to continue the project. Skip ahead to 1938, and the area saw its second attempt to procure the oil industry in the region when Shell D’Arcy began it’s oil project. Halted due to World War 2, Shell D’Arcy resumed their project in 1951, and held a monopoly on the area’s exploration for five years.
It wasn’t until the early 1960’s that the oil industry began to play a vital role in the Nigerian economy. Over the years, many oil companies have come and gone in the region and in recent times, as many as 18 multinational companies are reported to be operating in or around the Niger Delta.
Environmental Impact of Oil Drilling
Similar to the slow progress of prospecting the regulations of oil drilling didn’t take hold until 1988 when the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA), drastically changed the legal status quo of environmental protection in the Niger Delta region. While the regulations have helped the region protect its land to a degree, the high risk of environmental impact still looms.
Many environmental problems can occur at a prospect site, including oil spills, gas flaring venting and the discharge of petroleum. In addition to the raw crude oil, there are manufacturing risks to the environment including chemical wastes, water contamination, and the destruction of farmland and marine life.
In 2008 and 2009, two major oil spills were reported from Shell’s pipeline in the region. The economical and health impact continues to be a struggle and only recently has the company settled to an out of court agreement regarding the prosecution and liability of Shell’s negligence in the pipeline maintenance and response to the spill.
Regional Impacts of Oil Industry
With the increase of demand for oil from the Niger Delta, and with China increasing its volume of export and economic relationships within the region, more demand is has resulted in an increase of illegal activities and piracy in the area. Despite the economic benefit of the industry, many people are suffering from adverse effects of the oil export sector and live at risk for both environmental hazards and personal safety from pirates.
Human Health Risks of Oil Drilling
The Nigerian people also face a direct risk of oil drilling in the area, including the potential contamination of clean drinking water, accidental exposure to crude oil, and long term effects of chemical toxins. While there is no direct reports on the impact of those being affected by the oil industry in the Niger Delta, many reports have surfaced about the risks of exposure based on the Prestige oil spill, citing common health risks such as mutagenicity, carcinogenicity and the bio-accumulation in organic tissues. Long term exposure has also reported respiratory effects and chromosomal damage, as well as skin damage, skin tumors and bronchial symptoms.