Over the years, Oil spills in the Niger Delta have threatened lives, destroyed livelihoods, and continuously diminished the environment. Right now, we could rate the Niger Delta region as one of the most polluted places in the world. This rating can be attributed to the many spills that have been recorded. The life expectancy of people in this region has dropped below the country’s average due to oil spills, especially from illegal crude oil refining. All these have made the Niger Delta an area of concern. 

According to the United Nations Development Programme, the Niger Delta region has estimated spillage incidents of over 7000 over 50 years.  The Minister of Environment, Mohammad Abubakar, in a Premium Times report, disclosed that Nigeria recorded 4,919 oil spills between 2015 and March 2021 and lost 4.5 trillion barrels of oil to theft in four years. Between 2020 and 2021, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) recorded over eight hundred oil spills in the Niger Delta.

The Niger delta occupies a total land mass of 7.5%. It has 9 states and 186 local government areas, housing at least 25 million people. The Niger Delta to the southern part of Nigeria is 70,000 km2, through which the two rivers, Niger and Benue, bare their constituents into the Atlantic Ocean. As a rainforest and mangrove zone, it should be a center for intense fishing and farming activities. However, it is also a reserve for Nigeria’s oil and gas, the primary source of the country’s revenue. An oil spill is a common outcome of oil exploration and exploitation. Therefore, this region is the hub of the oil spill hazard in Nigeria. 

Causes of the Niger Delta Oil Spills

The Ministry of Petroleum Resources and Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC once reported that oil spillages arise due to:  

  1. Pipeline vandalism 
  2. Leakage from corroded pipes and valves
  3. The process of oil drilling
  4. Transportation by petroleum tankers
  5. Oil bunkering and smuggling 
  6. The method of petroleum refining, both conventionally and locally
  7. Leakages at filling stations and petroleum depots
  8. The Government’s lack of effective control over the multinationals in terms of continuous oil spills
  9. The directive by the regulatory body that oil companies should clean up the impacted areas and pay adequate compensation action to the affected communities fell on deaf ears 

Environmental Impacts of oil spills in the Niger Delta 

Soil Degradation

Contaminants from oil spills destroy beneficial organisms inhabiting the soil, making it quite impossible for the soil to regenerate itself. Oil spills alter the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the earth, thereby making the soil lose its relevance in crop production. The mangrove forest was a significant source of wood, but this is no longer the case. The decline in soil health in regions experiencing oil spills should be a considerable concern as it threatens food security. Several farmlands have been degraded over time, causing a drastic fall in food supplies. 

Water Pollution

Oil spills usually create a thin layer on the water surface, preventing gas exchange between aquatic organisms and the environment. These leakages lead to the death of marine organisms like fish, negatively affecting the livelihood of fish farmers in the region. Also, water meant for drinking in the area is polluted and no longer safe. These risks and threats to human survival in the region have displaced several people and cost some their lives.

Loss of Biodiversity

Several birds and mammals have been lost in the environment as they drink from contaminated water sources. This negatively affects the ecological food chain as other organisms depend on these animals for survival. Several fish have died due to the spills in water bodies due to leakages, and terrestrial plants cannot survive heavily contaminated soil.

Economic Impacts

Oil spills in the Niger Delta region have disrupted several business activities, especially fisheries and agriculture. Most farmers and fishermen have lost their source of livelihood and are now struggling to make ends meet. Oil spills in the Niger Delta region have made several locals lose their source of livelihood.

In conclusion, the Government and international agencies have made efforts to eliminate this hazard. However, there is still a lot to be done as the hazards still have a high rate of occurrence. People ought to be aware of the negative impacts of their actions. Strict measures must be put in place to supervise oil exploration activities effectively, and a system is required to check vandalizations, illegal explorations, and leakages. Rules and policies ought once backed by consistent follow-up actions and stringent penalties for defaulters. The compensation of affected communities is not a sustainable solution. We must devise solutions to eliminate oil spills in the Niger Delta permanently. 

Author: Paul Temidayo

Photo: Financial Times

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