Department of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering, University of Uyo, Uyo- Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.
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The environmental impact of exploration and production activities of the Petroleum industry is diverse, ranging from negligible effects of landscape through severe degradation, health hazards to significant and unavoidable impacts like pollution from oil spills and subsidence due to fluid withdrawal from the subsurface. Operating strictly according to environmental regulations significantly increases drilling, waste disposal and site restoration costs, thereby cutting down profits. Thus, industry operators cut corners. The industry for fear of exposing damage done and being asked to pay “huge” compensation play down Environmental Impact Statements. Backed by government run on oil, the industry is portrayed as a system that promotes research and development in areas that lead to strategic profitability rather than as one that is systematically disturbing the delicate natural balance of our environment. Public opinion and pressure is thus seen as perhaps the only effective monitor of environmental pollution and will continue to play this role for a long time in the future. The need for the formation of organized agencies with significant legal responsibilities towards localities that oil operations might endanger is therefore stressed. Although a review of the Mineral Acts of Nigeria and legislation on strict environmental standards is suggested, the oil industry is urged to turn and face the pollution effect of its activities as huge profits have already been made.
Environmental Pollution, Exploration, Production, Petroleum Industry, Nigeria
Environmental systems can be thought of as complex dynamic “organism” comprised of numerous physical, chemical and biological interactions and interdependencies, functioning at various levels (Zylstra, 1997). They respond to stimulus or input in a manner similar to free-living, independent organism, in that they have the capacity for self-regulation and repairs and one or more parts can be damaged or missing, yet the larger system may continue to function albeit at a less optimal level.
Pollution and attendant danger occur when the “stressors” (adverse inputs) are more than what the natural ecosystem can absorb and recycle without external aid. Unfortunately, the effect of these anthropogenic stressors is usually identified only after they have caused some measure of damage to the ecosystem.
In the new global order of sustainable development, emphasis is on effective management and efficient monitoring of anthropogenic stressors in the environment along with remediation of damage caused by past unwholesome activities.
This paper assesses the negative impact of petroleum industry activities on the environment of the Niger Delta and the Industry/government attitude towards existing monitoring and remediation regulations. It is found that Industry Operators have failed to show enough concern for the environment and well being of the host communities while Government has been negligent in enforcing environmental regulations. A call is therefore made for more active participation of communities and interest groups (in line with Principle 10 of Agenda 21, United Nations Rio Conference, 1992) in monitoring the environment as public perception and opinion rather than legislative actions are the ultimate drivers of environmental actions.
The Niger Delta is a triangular shaped area located at the southern tip of Nigeria. Believed to be one of the world’s richest wetland areas, it covers about 75,000 Km2 consisting of mangrove swamps and a number of distinct ecological zones such as coastal ridges, barriers, fresh water swamp forests and lowland rainforests (Nyananyo, 1999).
Politically, the area has nine of Nigeria’s thirtysix states-Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers with a combined population of 8.9 million people (1991 census) and a human population density ranging from 1.95 persons per hectare in Rivers/Bayelsa to 7.12 persons per hectare in Akwa Ibom State (Azaiki, 2003).
Niger Delta is the 13th largest sedimentary basin in the world (Selley, 1985) and a prolific hydrocarbon province with an estimated reserve of about 30 billion barrels of oil and 167 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (Reijiers et al., 1997; Sonibare and Ekweozor, 2001). Since the first commercial production of 5000bpd commenced at the Oloibiri Oil fields in 1956, over 5,300 wells have been drilled in about 500 oil fields discovered within the area (NNPC, 2004). Oil industry activity in the area is characterized by about 13,000 km of pipelines (both offshore and onshore), 112 flow stations, 6 FPSOs, 3 FSOs, 7 terminals and an installed capacity of 3 mmbpd operating at 70% to 80% efficiency (Kupolokun, 2007). The flurry of exploration and production activities ranging from appropriation of community land for running seismic lines and building construction, through improper disposal of drill cuttings, spent drilling mud as well as waste water and domestic waste to oil spillages and gas flaring has led to severe degradation of the Niger Delta environment. A three-fold impact emerges from the oil exploration and production activities in the areas. First, the environment has been polluted, secondly, there is depletion in the quality of life and livelihood of the inhabitants and finally the communities have not been developed.
Among several documented cases are:
• Severe corrosion of galvanized roofing sheets in houses (Agbon, 1995; Akpan, 2003).
• Alteration of agricultural soil quality not just through loss of nutrients but in the increase in amount of heavy and toxic metals (Kakulu, 1985). Physical coating and interaction of hydrocarbon and chemical components of oil with soil chemicals lead to changes in soil texture and reduction in soil quality (Nwadiaro, 1993; Grevy, 1995).
• Negative impact on aquatic ecosystem. Contaminated waste water and sometimes oil spill get into underground and surface water causing a deterioration of water quality. This in turn leads to destruction of aquatic planktons, a phenomenon that results in loss of breeding grounds and nursery for fishes and other marine organisms (Chukwu et al. 1998; Fumiyiwa, 1998; Onosode, 2003).
• Severe overall health problems such as cancer, increased skin irritation, impairment of respiratory function due to carbon monoxide toxicity (Shridhar, 2001; Ononge, 2002).
Ekuerhare and Orubu (1996) have shown that the ultimate economic effect of oil industry activity impact on environment translates to pecuniary effects that can be measured in terms of reduced real incomes and loss of alternative use of resources consumed by oil companies. Another long term effect is that the increase in incidence of poverty among vulnerable groups such as farmers and fishermen and their dependents culminates in intensified exploitation of existing natural resources such as timber and non-timber forest resources (Orubu et al. 2004). For example, pollution of major fishing waters leads to massive exploitation of marginal waters. The pressure on land due to spills and acquisition also leads to the exploitation of marginal farmlands, over-farming and deforestation all of which results in a new wave of environmental degradation. Thus a vicious cycle relationship between environmental degradation and poverty has been created in the area particularly in the face of inappropriate compensation programmes of Oil Companies which do not provide for alternative sources of livelihood for the deprived land owners. Yet there are regulatory legislations for proper conduct and operation in existence both locally and internationally.
International and Local Environmental Protection Laws
There is no dispute over the existence of pollutants and degradation of environment generated and occasioned by oil and gas exploration and production activity. The controversy has always been over the magnitude of the degradation and its long term effect on development as well as the response of the Operators (Benstein and Alsayegh, 1991). In Table 1, potential environmental impact in oil and gas exploration and production are enumerated. These “impacts” depend on several factors such as the stage of the process, the size and complexity of the project, the nature and sensitivity of the surrounding environment as well as the effectiveness of planning, pollution prevention, mitigation and control techniques. Several international instruments exist to protect various components of the environment by regulating the operational discharge of the oil and gas industry (Table 2). The control and enforcement of these instruments are, however, strictly the responsibility of national governments. Borthwick et al. (1997), however, noted that at National levels, petroleum laws rarely impose detailed requirement for environmental control programmes; rather environmental regulations are usually embodied in a variety of national laws. This is true for Nigeria where regulations on environmental policy relevant to the petroleum industry can be found in several legislations (Table 3).
Evolution of Nigeria’s environmental regulating legislation began with the Mineral Ordinance of 1914 enacted by the colonial Administration at the onset of exploration activity in the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry. The objective of the ordinance was to prohibit the pollution of water courses in the process of mining and prospecting for minerals including petroleum. Since Independence, a number of statutory efforts directed at environmental protection in the petroleum industry have been made. These include the Mineral Oil (safety) Regulations of 1963, Petroleum Regulations (1967) as well as the Oil in Navigable Waters Acts of 1968 and Federal Environmental Protection Agency (Decree No. 58, 1988) among others. The Federal Ministry of Environment and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) have remained the watchdogs of the Petroleum industry as encapsulated in the statutory framework for environmental policy (Figure 1).
A critical examination of the various legislations and regulations reveal no explicit provision to incorporate the host communities of the oil companies in the process of implementing protection and management strategies. Thus too often, too many within the industry indicate by their actions or inactions, a low regard for the environment considering environmental safety no more than another business expense.
Environmental Disequilibrium in the Niger Delta
Industry reports show that operating in the Niger Delta poses some of the toughest challenges in the world (Kragha and Adepoju, 1994; Ifebajo and Ibizugbe, 2002). The region has witnessed unprecedented attacks on oil and gas facilities, staff and contractors resulting in loses ranging from downtime to shutdowns. Indeed the region is today a militarized zone. Much of this has occurred due to the insensitivity of the operators in the industry to the plight of the people and the recourse to government might to suppress genuine demands of the people. Table 4 chronicles a few of the instances where operating companies used brut force to disperse communities they had desecrated. The argument of the Companies is that since they pay royalty and taxes to the Federal Government, the primary responsibility of developing the oil producing communities is that of the later and that the contributions of the former should be seen not as mandatory but based on the principle of good neighbourliness and responsible corporate citizenship. Sound as this argument may appear, it cannot be made about environmental conservation where the responsibility to maintain a pollution- free environment in the oil producing areas rests on the oil companies.
The traditional method of environmental regulation has largely been through prescriptive legislation although it is recently being complemented by performance assessment, goal setting negotiated agreements and self-evaluation. Under the prescriptive legislation, a company is supposed to maintain procedures to identify systematically, the hazards and effects which may arise from its activities and from the materials employed in them, the scope of the identification including all activities from inception through de-commissioning. This is encompassed in the environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which is defined as the systematic identification and evaluation of potential impacts (effects) of proposed projects, plans, programmes or legislative actions relative to the physico-chemical, biological, cultural and socio-economic complements of the total environment (Shridhar, 2001). The primary purpose of the EIA process is to encourage the consideration of the environment in planning and decision-making and to ultimately arrive at actions which are more environmentally compatible.
Industry operators maintain that they employ best practices in their operations and comply with existing laws (Adeyemi-Wilson et al. 1992; Ibanga, 1992; Udofia, 2000). However, most of the documents that pass as EIAs are superficial and contextually inexplicit. Although these documents are supposedly reviewed by independent Review Panels, they are prepared mainly to satisfy project requirement as stipulated and paid for by Operators (Dadiowei, 2003). Spills are not reported as stipulated by the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry (EGSPI) and when they are reported, they are grossly understated and there are no serious penalties for polluting the environment. The oil communities have thus lost confidence in the ability of the Agencies of Government to enforce environmental protection guidelines. The perennial crisis in the Niger Delta Region is therefore, a result of the increased sensitivity of the oil communities to the degradation of their environment and the attendant pollution related problems and the suspicion that neither the oil industry nor government through its various Agencies are ready and willing to address these problems.
Realizing the inevitable conflicts that arise from exploitation of natural resources, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development called for “the creation of new levels of cooperation among states, key sectors of societies and people” (United Nations, 1992). Specifically, Principle 10 of the Declaration notes that “environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens at the relevant levels” and that “indigenous people and their communities and other local communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices” (Principle 22).
There is therefore, the need to recognize and encourage non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community based organizations (CBOs) to monitor the effect of industry operations in the area. Some of these organizations like Niger Delta Human and Environmental Rights Organization (ND-HERO), Environmental Rights Association (ERA), and Wetlands Environmental Protection Association working in concert with the media, will form an effective buffer between industry operators and the host communities. An added advantage is that, these bodies are more likely to be objective, less sentimental and militant in their assessment of situations. In this connection:
- If recognized and encouraged, these NGOs and CBOs could take active part in Environmental Impact Assessment for accuracy of prediction, transparency and credibility.
- There is need for international donors to support capacity building of the NGOs and CBOs to make them capable and effective in monitoring the changes in the environment to ensure compliance.
- The NGOs and CBOs should then collaborate with Agencies of government in post impact assessment of oil producing communities.
- These civil organizations could, therefore, ensure that neither the Government nor her Agencies are collaborators in the degradation of the Niger Delta Region.
On the other hand, if the oil companies have confidence in these groups and carry them along for the purpose of educating local people on issues concerned with environmental degradation or clean-ups after spills or on issues of adequate compensation for loss of properties and livelihood, there is no gainsaying that much of the crisis in the region would have been avoided.
Petroleum industry activities, if not always, have environmental consequences that result from activities inherent in the exploration, production, and processing of oil and gas. Therefore, where oil and gas development is permitted, all projects should be subject to rigorous environmental assessment, monitoring and review by all interested stakeholders. What is required is the commitment of all stakeholders with the Nigerian government, at various levels, leading the way. The Nigerian government can motivate the stakeholders by providing, propagating and fostering the enabling fiscal, economic and social environments including the maintenance of a favourable legal framework that will support the process.
Thus far, public awareness and concern about our environment has been growing thereby prompting the Nigerian government to develop and/or revise existing policies, laws, regulations, guidelines, and performance standards to ensure environmentally sound petroleum industry operations. The Nigerian government has the sole responsibility of setting the ground rules and providing the framework for appropriate industrial development while ensuring that our environment is adequately protected. In the same token, our petroleum industry professionals must work round the clock to ensure that the operations for which they are responsible are conducted in a sound environmental manner that complies with the laws and regulations of our country. In this regard, the petroleum industry management and their employees must understand the basic environmental regulatory structure of Nigeria and how it may evolve over the lifetime of the projects that they get involved in. Generally, a nation’s regulatory cycle consists of four basic and interdependent elements, namely (Armstrong et al. 1999):
(i) Policy setting which involves establishing the basic principles and approaches for environmental protection generally codified in laws and regulations.
(ii) Implementation which involves establishing and implementing a permitting or licensing system that defines who is authorized to pursue specific activities and the terms under which those authorized activities can be undertaken.
(iii) Verification and monitoring which involve establishing and implementing a system to ensure compliance with required environmental practices and standards as specified by laws and regulations and by permits and licenses, and
(iv) Enforcement which involves establishing and implementing procedures and penalties to punish those who do not adhere to the established environmental requirements.
Adhering to this regulatory cycle along with the incorporation of NGOs, CBOs, ND-HERO, and ERA, etc, to monitor the effect of petroleum industry operations in the operational areas will go a long way to help promote the concept of “sustainable development” that is widely endorsed by many governmental and non-governmental organizations around the world as perhaps the primary framework for promoting economic development that is environmentally sustainable and socially equitable.