Environmental effects of oil and gas exploration and production in Nigeria

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The country Nigeria(oil-producing), is the most populous country in Africa, it is also blessed with a huge amount of natural resources namely minerals and petroleum.

But due to poor management, it has been found to be a very poor economy. After the oil boom in 1974 just 14 years after independence, many wondered if the oil boom was a cure or a curse for the nation. 

While the oil industries were generating revenue for the government they also made a lot of negative impact on the environment.

For example, the oil boom was actually at the expense of other sectors such as mining, agriculture, and manufacturing.

On the other hand, Nigeria has diverse ethnicity and it happened that crude oil was found in the Niger Delta basin hence it also created a rivalry between ethnicities.                                                                                                                         

In this article, we will be considering mostly the environmental impact of oil and gas exploration in Nigeria and also suggested ways of curbing or mitigating these effects.


The objective of this article is to evaluate the effects of petroleum exploration and production activities in Nigeria with a view to finding its impact on the social environment. The objectives of this article are as follows:

  • To examine the impact of intensive exploration and subsequent exploitation in the oil-producing environment and Nigeria at large.
  • To know the extent that the environment is being degraded during exploration and production.
  • To examine how the Oil and Gas Multinational Companies have contributed to the management of the environment in selected communities in Nigeria.
  • To make necessary and appropriate recommendations towards finding enduring mitigation measures against the effects of petroleum exploration in Nigeria. 


The effect of oil resource extraction on the environment of the Niger Delta has been very glaring in terms of its negative effect on the region. Inyang (1997), stated that Oil exploration and exploitation has over the last four decades impacted disastrously on the socio-physical environment of the Niger Delta oil-bearing communities, massively threatening the subsistent peasant economy and the environment and hence the entire livelihood and basic survival of the people.

READ: Shell must pay Nigerian farmers for oil spills, says Dutch court

Suffice it to note that, while oil extraction has caused negative socio-economic and environmental problems in the Niger Delta, 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 87% in 1976.”

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 fishing and farming which are the traditional means of livelihood of the people of the oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta, Nigeria.

If the oil industry is considered in view of its enormous contribution to foreign exchange earnings, it has achieved remarkable success. On the other hand, when considered in respect of its 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.

This rightly provides a framework to evaluate the work of neo-classical economists who argue that the development of primary resource materials for export in the periphery is the basis for development in the peripheral countries.


 In this section, we are going to consider more specifically the various environmental and socio-economic problems that have been identified as a result of the intensive extraction of natural oil resources in the Niger Delta communities in Nigeria, and they include:

  •  Contamination of Streams and Rivers In the course of oil exploration and production in the Niger Delta, various materials are released into the environment. For example, during exploration, drill cuttings, drill mud, and fluids are used for stimulating production. When these stimulating fluids happen to come in contact with streams and rivers, contamination is inevitable.
  • The Problem of Oil Spills Transportation and marketing: Damage to oil pipelines and accidents involving road trucks and tankers generate oil spills and hydrocarbon emissions which according to Ikporukpo (1988), have a far more reaching effects, because the toxicity of the oil adversely affect the soil, plant, and water resources. Also aquatic animals are adversely affected; when oil spills it rids the aquatic life off oxygen hence resulting to their death.  oxygen deprived aquatic organism die as a result of marine pollution and oil spillage
  • Forest Destruction and Bio-diversity Losses: 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 according to Nwankwo and Ifeadi (1988), these materials disperse and sink, killing marine animals . Land degradation in an oil producing community (Ogoni)
  • The Environmental Effect of Gas Flaring: Flaring of natural gas has also been identified as having a negative impact on surrounding vegetation as illustrated by the photo below, also it pollutes the atmosphere especially when poisonous gas such as hydrogen sulfide is flared.

  •  Effluent Discharge and Disposal Refinery: These wastes also contain very toxic chemicals, which constitute potential land, water, and air pollutants. Atmospheric contaminants from refinery operations include oxides of nitrogen, carbon, and sulfur. Liquid refinery effluents usually contain oil and grease. These compounds contain organic chemicals such as phenol cyanide, sulfide- suspended solids, chromium, and biological oxygen demanding organic matter, which on getting in contact with land and water pollute them.
  • Gross Socio-Economic Underdevelopment: The Niger Delta communities have remained grossly socio-economically underdeveloped and pauperized amidst the immense oil wealth owing to systematic dis-equilibrium in the production exchange relationship between the 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 disorganization, increasing poverty, misery, military occupation, and bloody violence, Pegg (1999). Oil extraction has impacted most disastrously on the socio-physical environment of the Niger Delta 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, persistently dis-empowered, socio-culturally marginalized, and psychologically alienated. The wealth derived from oil resource exploitation and exports benefits directly only the operators of the oil industry and the bureaucrats in government.
  • Conflicts between Oil Companies and Host Communities: Of the two most appropriating external systems, that is, the government and the multinational oil companies, the multi National Companies are in more direct and physical contact with the communities and their expropriated inhabitants. The deprived peasants currently make the demand for social services from the oil companies, then 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 pacifying the protesting communities, Pegg (1999)

  •  Intra And Inter-Community Conflicts Oil Exploration And Exploitation: This has over the last four decades instigated and intensified bitter and bloody conflicts between emerging interest groups within and between communities. These conflicts now range between elite groups and between youth organizations on one hand, between the urban resident elite and the village community resident on the other scale. This could be seen within the concept of what Phillips (1997), wrote in respect of his analysis of the Honduran development of the shrimp farm industry for export. He stated thus “The preservation and advancement of basic human rights, the equitable use of land and resources, and the preservation and sustainable use of the countries natural environment are three inextricably connected aspects of a single historical process”. The conflict that has emerged in the Niger Delta as a result of the extraction of oil has its roots in the violation of the rights of local community people as a result of the promulgation of obnoxious legislation. This has inevitably led to greater poverty and landless groups of people whose basic sustenance as peasant farmers have been negatively affected as a result of oil extraction for export. As a cumulative effect, this has led to a more environmental problems in the region.


  “Oil exploration and exploitation have over the last four decades impacted disastrously on the socio-physical environment of the Niger Delta oil-bearing communities, massively threatening the subsistent peasant economy and the environment and hence the entire livelihood and basic survival of the people.” Says Inyang, Suffice it to note that, while oil extraction has caused negative socio-economic and environmental problems in the Niger Delta, the Nigerian State has benefited immensely from petroleum since it was discovered in 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 total study effort is summarized below. Using a combination of primary and secondary data sources the research found that:


From the above mention situation, the petroleum exploration and production company should seriously put into consideration, the impact mitigation and enhancement framework, as well as the social management plan in order to make those people whose environment have been directly impacted to have means of livelihood and a sense of belonging with improvements in the quality of their environment with respect to farmlands and rivers.


There should be an effective spill detection and clean-up mechanism put in place; like the electrification of the host community directly from the flow station. Tie-in, in such a way that whenever there is an oil leak the station goes down, the community will automatically go out of power. It becomes imperative that fewer incidents of spill especially in cases of sabotage spill and regular supply of electricity to the community.


There should be the proper implementation of the Hazards and Effects Management Process (HEMP) to curtail the impacts of spills on the environment. This will prompt the anticipated effects and proffer the right solution to such environmental hazards.


The government should ensure that dialogue serves as the basis for resolving conflicts and Environmental Management Education should be mainstreamed into the curricula of the Primary, Post Primary, and tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

Ensure that the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), effectively performs its regulatory function of monitoring and controlling the activities of the petroleum exploration and production including the processes of oil licensing, enforcement of the implementation of the Corporate Social Responsibility and the Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMU) signed by both the petroleum exploration and production Multinationals and their host communities. 


From this article, a number of conclusions have been reached, which are:                                                                                                                   Petroleum-related activities have been going on in Nigeria since 1956. For much of that period, communities hosting oil-related facilities have suffered neglect from the petroleum exploration and production multinationals operating in the area.

This singular act of neglect has caused a lot of setbacks in these communities as sources of livelihood, income, and occupation have been destroyed and the ecosystem distorted.

The study revealed that the hazards and effects associated with a crude oil spill are enormous and cannot be over-emphasized.

Therefore it is pertinent that any spill incident should be addressed with immediate effect for remediation and proper cleanup, as this will enhance the quality of the environment in the communities.

As it is gathered, there is no proper mechanism for the dissemination of information about the environmental hazards associated with spills on the environment.

Therefore the relevant Government Agencies, Ministries, Departments, and Parastatal, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), Community Based Organizations (CBO’s), Faith-Based Organization’s (FBO’s) The Mass Media should ensure that they partner with both the government and the people at the community level to properly educate the villagers on the effects of spills on the environment as to prevent loss of their means of livelihood, and increase in rural poverty and other social vices.


 [1] Achebe C. and Epstein P.R. OIL: Prize or Curse? Energy Bulletin, All Africa, 2004 

[2] Akinjide Osuntokun (Ed) Dimensions of Environmental Problems in Nigeria. Davidson Press, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 1997 

[3] Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Annual Report, 1981 

[4] Http://www.marisec.org/ics/issues/exonvald.htm accessed October 2008 

[5] Http://www.waado.org/Environment/FedGovt_Niger Delta/BayelsaInvasion accessed October 2008 

[6] Http://www.waado.org/UrhoboHistory/FireDisasters /FireDisasters.accessed October 2008 

[7] Ikporukpo C.O.  “Politics and Regional Policies: The Issue of State Creation in  Nigeria,” Political Geography Quarterly [London], 5, No. 2, 127-39, 1986. 

[8] Isiche A.O. and Sanford W.W, “The Effect of Waste Gas Flares on the Surrounding Vegetation of South-eastern Nigeria” Journal of Applied Ecology Vol. 13. 1976 

[9] Inyang A.E. “The Nigerian State, Oil Exploration and Community Interest: Issues and Perspectives.” University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, 1997 

[10] Laws of the Federation, Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) Act Cap 10 Sect. 41, 2002 

  1. [11] National Population Commission, Census Figures of 1991 Population Census. Federal Government Press, Abuja.Pg 3-32, 1991.  

[12] Nwankwo N. and Ifeadi C.N. “Case Studies on the Environmental Impact of Oil Production and Marketing in Nigeria” University of Lagos, Nigeria, 1988. 

[13] Pegg S. “The Cost of Doing Business: Transnational Corporations and Violence in Nigeria” Belkint University, Turkey, 1999. 

[14] Saro-Wiwa K. Second Letter to Ogoni Youths, pg 14. (1993) 

[15] Shell Petroleum Development Company SPDC, (1998), HIGHLIGHTS, NPD, p.5. See also, SPDC: Fact file, from http//www.shellnigeria.com/shell/factfile_rhs.asp


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