The boom of oil exploration in Africa became an opportunity for Africa countries to accelerate their economic growth and development. Foreign oil exploration companies set aside billions of dollars for oil search in Africa. The major beneficiaries of oil exploration activities in Sub Sahara Africa so far are Nigeria and Angola which have the largest oil production capacities. However, the benefits have not extended all round since environmental health has been compromised at expense of growing GDP.
The Niger Delta which covers 90,000 km² and supports different biodiversity, agricultural activities, marine lives and agricultural activities, thus, sustains a wider ecosystem in West Africa may become inhabitable and hostile due to oil spills. Oil and gas exploration have a devastating effect on biodiversity and the ecosystem. This includes clearance of exploration sites, geological excavation and extensive is oil spillage. In Nigeria, the Niger Delta is the main oil and gas producing zone which forms 90 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange. The main oil extraction companies include Shell, Mobil, Agip, and Chevron. While oil and gas production brings significant economic benefits in the Niger Delta, it has significant environmental and social impacts. The oil spills have a more direct impact on the environment, human health, fishing, and farming.
A research carried out by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) shows the repercussions of oil exploration that have been witnessed in the Niger Delta including deep soil contamination, pollution of underground water, waterways and drinking water for local communities living in the oil belt. A new study has linked the oil spills with infant deaths in Nigeria where the mother lived near the scene before conception.
Oil producing companies have been largely blamed for the rise of environmental degradation which has threatened the environment and the entire Niger Delta ecosystem. Loss of biodiversity, water, air and land pollution in the Niger Delta is largely brought about by oil spillage putting the health and livelihood of the community at risk. The oil spillage has been attributed to pipeline corrosion, poor maintenance, illegal refinery, and equipment failure.
According to Amnesty International, between the year 2007 and 2014, there were 1,693 oil spills amounting to over 350,000 barrels of crude oil as recorded by Shell company. The frequent oil spillage in the Niger Delta has made life challenging forcing the community to abandon farming due to degradation that has rendered in farmlands unsuitable for agricultural activities.
Due to huge land degradation resulting from oil spills, massive cleanup activities have been launched by various stakeholders including governments and oil companies like Shell. The $1 billion cleanup exercise launched by the Nigerian government is an example of such clean up initiative that seeks to restore the degraded land.This initiative also includes compensation of the affected people.