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Oil: A Major Environmental Issue in Nigeria

Updated: Aug 28, 2020



The African continent is home to a plethora of natural resources which are useful in several industries both within the continent itself and across the globe. Nigeria in particular is home to abundance of natural resources and at the top of that list is oil.

Located on the Gulf of Guinea on Africa’s western coast, the history of oil exploration in Nigeria dates back to 1903 when Nigerian Bitumen Corporation conducted exploratory work in the country although at the onset of World War I the firm's operation were stopped (J.G, 1999) due to the lack of technological and financial resources by small oil companies. Oil was officially discovered in Nigeria in 1956 at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta after years of exploration. It was discovered by Shell-BP who was the sole concessionaire at the time. Nigeria joined the ranks of oil producers in 1958 when its first oil field came on stream and after 1960; it began extending exploration rights in onshore and offshore areas to other foreign companies. (NNPC, n.d.)

The oil industry is the largest and main generator of gross domestic product in Nigeria since its discovery and the drilling of oil in Nigeria. With an estimated production volume of 1,938 million barrels per day, it is the 15th largest producer of oil in the world. (Worldometer, 2020) Nigeria has an economy that is very dependent on this oil sector, accounting for nearly 95% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings, with oil reserves estimated between 24 billion and 31.5 billion and produce 90 million tons per year. Nigeria also continues to experience remarkable increases in operational activities in her oil and gas exploration and exploitation, marketing and refining. (ROMANOVA, 2007)

Nigeria’s boom in the production of oil is not however without sacrifice and the environment has become Abraham’s lamb. With the discovery of massive amounts of oil and its resultant revenue, it has also wreaked significant havoc on the environment, risking local communities, crops and ecosystems, which are given little consideration when oil deposits are in question (Akinlo, 2012). Oil exploration and exploitation has continued to cause environmental destruction owing to neglect and limited concern by the multinational companies in environmental management in the area. It has been recorded that up to 1.5 million tons of oil has been spilt in the ecologically precious Niger Delta over the past 50 years, (Brown, 2006) coupled with gas flaring which releases large amounts of greenhouse gases with high global warming potential. The industry has caused serious health complications and environmental pollution problems for their host communities in particular. The Niger Delta area where the oil was first discovered commercially is the heaviest affected. Several people in the Niger Delta area have no access to basic human rights such as health, access to food and clean water.

Even in instances with precautions, there are accidents that do occur periodically in the process of production, refining and distribution of petroleum products which may be as a result of accidental discharges, deliberate or wilful acts of vandalization, neglect in carrying out proper maintenance and or even human error. In the process of exploration and production, waste generated include atmospheric emissions, drill cuttings, drilling fluids, deck drainage and well treatment fluids in addition to accidental oil spills. There have been a number of environmental problems that have resulted in the Niger-Delta region. These oil related environmental problems include water and air pollution and land degradation and deforestation which have multidimensional implications and multiple side effects on the people.

This environmental pollution also has economic and social dimensional effects as the major occupation of most of the people in these communities include, crop farming, subsistence and industrial or commercial fishing, trading and so on. Along with the various effects oil pollution has had on the Niger Deltas vegetation and agricultural land, oil pollution has also impacted the health of the local residents. The ingestion, contact, and inhalation of constituents of spilled crude oil is very likely to result in acute and long-term health implications. Although the manifestations of the exposures are often transient, severe exposures can result in acute renal failure, hepatoxicity and hemotoxicity, and even infertility and cancer. (Nwagbo, 2017)

It is convenient that everyone turn a blind eye to these environmental challenges or wait till the government notices but the truth is that each and every one of us on a personal level is capable of doing more towards curbing the pollution caused by oil exploration activities. The most important thing is to help create awareness. Outside of the Niger Delta region, many Nigerians remain unaware of the havoc caused by the activities of those partaking in the exploration of oil in the region. Most are oblivious to the damage it has caused not only on an environmental level but on social, physical and economic levels as well. It is important that they are educated and made aware of these dangers and to encourage them to help lend their voices in the struggle for better environmental policies. It is also important that there be petitions and campaigns to advocate against the destruction of natural resources by these oil companies. Nigerians, from all regions must band together and make known their displeasure as to the activities of these companies in order for the government to act. A singular voice may get swallowed in the crowd but if the crowd itself can lend its voice, it will be impossible for the government to continue to ignore the situation. Nigerians must also demand responsive leadership, not only from the government but from even local community heads. In addition to the government activities, local community heads must be encouraged to request from these companies, proper environment research and survey, as well as their word that their exploration activities shall have no negative effect on the people and the environment at large.

In conclusion, oil is certainly important to the Nigerian economy but we cannot ignore just how dangerous it is to the environment and the people.


Akinlo, A. E. (2012). How Important is Oil in Nigeria's Economic Growth? Retrieved from ResearchGate:'s_Economic_Growth

Brown, J. (2006). Niger Delta bears brunt after 50 years of oil spills. Retrieved from INDEPENDENT:

J.G, F. (1999). Oil in Nigeria: Conflict and litigation between oil companies and village communities.

NNPC. (n.d.). History of the Nigerian Petroleum Industry. Retrieved from NNPC :

Nwagbo, G. (2017). Oil Pollution in the Niger Delta. Retrieved from

ROMANOVA, I. (2007). Oil boom in Nigeria and its consequences for the country s economic development. Retrieved from GRIN:

Worldometer. (2020). Nigeria Oil. Retrieved from:

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