Crude Oil Is Always Found In Godforsaken Places

OIL and GAS in Africa. The story of oil and gas in Africa is the story of rogue exploitation, despoliation and bizarre brigandage. It is a story of pollution, displacement and pillage. It is a montage of burnt rivers, burnt forests and maimed lives. An oil well is a death sentence if it is located in your backyard. I was waiting for immigration checks at the Johannesburg International airport late August 2001 when suddenly I found that I was standing behind two US oil industry workers based in Nigeria. They were quite loquacious. Two lines in their excited talk caught my attention. “Just imagine,” one said, “how crude oil is always found in Godforsaken places.” “No,” the partner replied, “it is crude oil exploitation that makes those places Godforsaken.” If Africa were to be devoid of mountains, rivers and other natural features, oil and gas fields would nevertheless have provided sufficient dots on the map to arrest your attention. Each dot on the map representing oil or gas fields has a long story to tell. Their histories are deeply linked to the histories of the geographical boundaries within which they are found. These dots look so abstract and commonplace on maps. They did not just appear there: they are the footprints of oil transnational corporations (TNCs) whose umbilical cords are fed by colonial blood. The revenue accruing from oil and gas exploitation is certainly huge. The problem is that they do not translate to positive change in the nations of Africa. The huge revenues are neither adequately/transparently accounted for by the governments or by the TNCs. Thus, the same deprived people are made to bear the heavy load of unpayable debts allegedly owed the World Bank and other creditor institutions of the North. The extractive industry generally holds a record in conflict generation, gross human rights abuses and sustenance of undemocratic or at least unstable regimes. It does not matter where in the South these companies operate or whether we are considering crude oil or diamonds . When one reflects on the situation in Sierra Leone, one cannot but think that wearing a diamond these days could mean the same as wearing a child’s limb on one’s finger. Onshore oil/gas exploitation has predictably generated conflicts due to the brazen disregard of social and environmental concerns and today the TNCs are literally heading into the deep waters as they head offshore. Off shore is attractive for many reasons: The oil industry in Nigeria is emblematic of oil activities in other Sub-Saharan countries in Africa. Cases of degradation and human rights violations are well documented and known. Let us mention a few examples. On 14 October 2000 ten youths of the Olugbobiri community, Bayelsa State, were murdered by military guards near an oil facility belonging to AGIP in an unprovoked attack. After this massacre AGIP’s commissioned a study into the alternatives to using military personnel on oil facilities. The incident at Olugbobiri came about as youths from the community sought to clarify the status of the specifications for a proposed road project in the area. It was alleged that the oil company had altered the agreed specifications without proper procedures and without any discussion with the local people. On 28 May 1998, Ilaje youths were shot, killed and wounded on Chevron’s Parabe platform where they had gone to arrange for dialogue on the impact of oil extraction on their communities and livelihoods. Cases abound where rivers are not only polluted but are also set on fire in a bid to conceal evidence of crude oil spillage. When you see a fire in the Niger delta you do well not to jump into any river. It may just be the river itself that is on fire. Oil and gas business is a business carried out on an uneven ground. Trade with the North has been decidedly unfair. The incident involving the Royal Niger Company (RNC) — the 1895 sacking of Akassa should underscore this position. The Akassa people (of now Bayelsa State) were a great people with thriving agriculture and commerce. Indeed they were in trading contacts with merchants in areas as far off as Liverpool. To ensure that they had a complete monopoly of trade in Akassa, the RNC ensured, by force of arms, that the people were cut off from what they knew best to do. The result was massive starvation, disease and death. The trade then was about palm oil. Today there is still resource conflict in the region and it is still about oil, only this time it is not palm oil but crude oil. Oil TNCs use judicial processes to present themselves as law abiding corporate citizens while ensuring that they do not accept judicial decisions that are against them. This phase of oil business is marked by seismic activities that involve the use of dynamites and other explosives. These are either detonated in the bowels of the earth through water bodies or dry land. These explosives have direct impact on the aquatic stocks in the area as well as the fauna. Aftershocks are known to sometimes cover as much as a radius of 10 kilometres. The blasts have been known to have impact on the auditory systems of sea birds and mammals finally affecting their ability to community and procreate. Other side effects are noted in diminished food supplies, increased cases of hypertension and endocrine imbalance . The ultimate impact is on the fish supply on which the economy of the local people hangs. Oil spills, pipeline explosions and resultant conflicts mark the exploitation and transportation stages. Pipelines are routinely left to rust and rupture before efforts are made to replace them. Oil spills are never adequately cleaned up. Cases in point here can be found in Nigeria’s Ogoniland. The Ogoni people expelled Shell from their communities in 1993, but spills that occurred long before then already dotted the landscape and are testimonies to the destruction wreaked on their land by Shell. AGIP’s spill at Etiema, a community close to Ogbolomabiri [headquarters of Nembe West LGA of Bayelsa State] was traced to her pipelines that were constructed in 1972 and have not since been upgraded or replaced. The people have seen many spills but nothing like that of 13 May 2000. By the end of the day the crude oil had spread to communities such as Igbeta-Ewoama, Iwokiri, Agbakabiriyo, Sabatoro, Kemenini, etc. AGIP hired some youths to clean up the spill usingfaultymechanical pumps. The faulty pump generated a spark that ignited the crude oil and killed at least six youths. Angola is a prime example of a richly endowed nation that has found her riches a curse rather than a blessing. The nation has some of the richest mineral resources in Africa. Oil activities commenced in the 1960s here. Over the years, civil wars have torn this nation apart and this has put virtually every national endeavour in reverse gear. It is remarkable to note that because crude oil here is produced offshore (mostly from the fields off Cabinda), the production pace has remained high. Sudan has a shorter history of oil extraction but because of the massive war in the oil areas it can be compared to the Niger delta. ‘Southern Sudan – where most of the oil is — has long been a zone of extraction rather than of development. In fact, since the resurgence of civil war in the last two decades it has gone backwards in terms of development and social provision.’ The method favoured by the Sudanese government to keep the oil fields and pipelines quiet is that of ‘expelling civilians from the areas of Talisman’s operation to create a no-man’s land around the wells…if it were not for oil development, the army would not be displacing civilians from these areas.’. More than 40 years of war in Sudan may appear to have nothing to do with oil since Sudanese oil only got pumped into the market in 1999 but long before the first well was drilled deals were being made and speculators were already trooping to the banks with ‘oil’ money. Cameroon has a wide range of natural resources including bauxite, tin ore and limestone. Natural gas is found near Douala, and offshore oil deposits are being exploited. However, what placed Cameroon on the oil resistance map of the world is not oil found in this nation but crude oil from the oil fields of neighbouring Chad. The 1000 km pipeline is running from Southern Chad to the Cameroonian Atlantic coast. This is ELF territory, following on the heels of French colonial “conquest”. Elf is working with BP, Shell and Statoil in developing new fields as deep as 2 kilometres. Design focus has been on multifunctional concrete barges that drill and produce simultaneously. Mobil was the first oil TNC to obtain a license to prospect here. Until the discovery of crude oil, agriculture was by far the main source of livelihood in Equatorial Guinea. The rural economy has deteriorated under successive brutal regimes, with the potential for agriculture-led growth reduced as a result. [1] Tanzania–The Zanzibar government has authorised a Canadian company, Antrim Resources, to prospect for oil off Pemba and Zanzibar islands. License given since 1997. Time is long past when oil communities rejoiced at the announcement of crude oil finds in their territories. Today they receive such announcements with trepidation. From experience it has heralded environmental and human rights abuse of monumental proportions. In Nigeria there is more attention to environmental impact assessments (EIA) and their scrutiny. Case in point is the reaction of the local community to ELF’s presentation of an EIA on its recent oil field (Amenam Ikpono FDP, OML 99) in Nigeria. The areas of worry were telling : 3. Unacceptable low level of attention paid to the coastal vegetation and soils that they see as ultimate points of impact when spills occur. 4. Inadequate baseline studies as well as inadequate level of participatory research/dialogue with stakeholders. OFFSHORE OIL: OFFSHORE CONTRACTS The media frequently reports on communal conflicts over lack of basic social services in communities where crude oil is exploited. However, there are other levels of conflicts that are just as prominent and equally fundamental. This has to do with who wins the contracts in the oil fields. Shell’s 1000 metres deep Bonga oilfield lying 120 kilometres off the Nigerian coast was discovered in 1995 with investment decisions reached in 2000. The field is set to begin production in 2003. The oilfield has a recoverable oil deposit of 600 million barrels. Federal legislators are unhappy that the contracts for works on the oilfield were all given to foreign companies. A Shell spokesman said recently that the company is “not concerned about federal legislators threatening to bring a halt to the work on the Bonga Main find over the award of five major contracts to foreign firms. We’ve engaged some group of senators and House of Representatives members in a debate and they are looking into the details. I don’t think they will take a decision that will not be in the interest of Nigeria.” The controversy over these contracts eventually led the national assembly to set up a body to investigate the award of contracts in the Nigerian oil industry. Shell’s current position is that Nigerian firms will have a share of contracts during the production stages. The people in most oil communities in Nigeria live with gas stacks that flare gas 24 hours a day at temperatures of 13-14,000 degrees Celsius. These gas flares produce 35 million tons of CO2 and 12 million tons of methane, more than the rest of the world. This makes the oil industry in Nigeria the single biggest source of global warming in the world). The effect of gas flaring has been dramatic: continual noise, acid rain and retarded crop yield, corroded roofs and lung diseases. Nigerians have been told that the various facilities and projects such as the proposed West African Gas project would greatly reduce gas flaring. The way this would be achieved has not been transparently presented to the people. What is obvious is that the gas being flared is associated gas whereas much of what the new gas projects plan to utilise are from new gas fields and are not associated with crude oil production. Oil and gas extraction has been done with little or no environmental mitigation provisions. These methods ensure huge profits for TNCs and leave an equal deficit to the local communities. The question is what will it take to return the environment to its natural state? The economic matrix must allow for these before profits can be declared. The environmental costs are evidently discounted from the accounting books. These unbalanced balance sheets need to be revisited. Oil was first pumped in commercial quantities in West Africa from a well in Oloibiri in 1958. Till date, theareahas no all season roads. The well itself yielded all the crude it could and is today garlanded by silent bushes and a plague erected there by General Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s president. Generally, it is held that living conditions in oil communities are worse than they were before the onset of oil. In other words, oil activities reduce the economic well-being and livelihood levels of the people. Today’s world is interconnected and interdependent. The problem is that the linkage has remained a lopsided one. Conflicts in Africa are in the main traceable to extractive activities. Diamonds in Sierra Leone, oil in the Niger Delta and Sudan, diverse minerals in the DRC, etc. In responding to the symptoms the West often waives these conflicts off as “African problems that require African solutions”. That must be seen as true in a certain sense. ” The history of externally driven solutions has not delivered durable peace on the continent. ” Tropical oil producing countries have become critical sources of cheap energy resources. With less rigorous environmental legislation, the TNCs derive excessive profit by plundering the land irrespective of the safety of the people and their environment. ‘ In the oil/gas sector as well as in other spheres, TNCs are expanding and merging for greater expansion and greater influence while at the same time the World Bank, IMF and related institutions are encouraging shrinking of public corporations. The TNCs are swallowing up governments, weakening them and re-colonising these nations. ‘ TNCs are the warrant agents of Northern governments. They are the hands of Esau “behind” the voice of Jacob. Where they operate in Africa they often attempt to distance themselves from their host governments. Problem is that they can’t succeed because the people only see these governments when they step out to protect the installations of the oil and gas companies, “or knocking down a protest action.” ‘ One of the problematic of conceptualising ecological debt with regard to oil and gas extraction is located in the internal political equation of the countries involved. Because these TNCs operate “better” under repressive regimes the entire process is non-participatory. And because the people at the end of the burning sticks are so oppressed, they often question the legitimacy of the governments under which they are forced to live. Payment of ecological debt in such a situation can be seen as further fattening an already fat bull, empowering them to be more corrupt and more repressive. ‘ Emerging from the above scenario is the agitation by local peoples for a say in the extraction of resources from their communities. In Nigeria this has given rise to a demand for Resource Control by these local peoples. The argument is that since they (the people) live on the degraded lands and waters, they would be in a better position to negotiate with TNCs over the methods of resource extraction as well as being in a better position to utilise the accruing resources for development and meeting of real needs . ‘ Inter ethnic conflicts are deliberately generated in and between oil/gas communities so as to ensure environmental recklessness and irresponsible extraction. A recent CIA assessment report of the Nigerian environment highlighted some “key indicators” to monitor as including, “The emergence of regional political movements or cross-ethnic coalitions based on concerns about public health and environmental degradation. The rise of such groups, a rarity in Nigeria to date, could signal a move towards political instability on a national level. ” It adds, “escalating violence could also prompt oil companies to request US or foreign government assistance. ” ‘ The same report highlights the corrupt nature of oil TNCs when it states, “Oil revenue is often diverted into military-controlled accounts, and oil companies give kickbacks to secure licenses .” ‘ Alternative energy sources must be developed and popularised. The strangle hold on the alternative energy industry by oil/gas TNCs must be broken to save our planet and reduce the ever-increasing ecological debt. ‘ There must be a moratorium for say ten years on all new oil exploration while a massive environmental audit is carried out in all existing oil/gas fields. The audit will reveal what actions need to be taken to restore our devastated environments. It will also show components of what debt needs to be addressed. ((04 DEC 2001))




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