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Impact of Oil Spills on Coastal Areas in Nigeria

Earlier this week, it was reported in the Vanguard that “The Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, expressed fears over the continuous deferral in the commencement of the actual cleanup of Ogoni land. MOSOP stated that Ogoni lands and water were still polluted, adding that the people could not resume fishing and farming due to the delay in the cleanup.” In this article, we look at the impact of oil spills on Nigerian coastal areas.

Since the discovery of oil at Oloibiri in 1956, Nigeria has been suffering the negative environmental consequences of oil development. The growth of the country’s oil industry, combined with a population explosion and a lack of enforcement of environmental regulations has led to substantial damage to Nigeria’s environment, especially in the Niger Delta region.

When there is an oil spill on water, spreading immediately takes place. The gaseous and liquid components evaporate. Some get dissolved in water and even oxidize, and yet some undergo bacterial changes and eventually sink to the bottom by gravitational action.

The soil is then contaminated with a gross effect upon the terrestrial life. As the evaporation of the volatile lower molecular weight components affect aerial life, so the dissolution of the less volatile components with the resulting emulsified water, affects aquatic life.

The harmful effects of oil spills on the environment are many. Oil kills plants and animals in the estuarine zone. Oil settles on beaches and kills organisms that live there, it also settles on ocean floor and kills benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms such as crabs.

Oil poisons algae, disrupts major food chains and decreases the yield of edible crustaceans. It also coats birds, impairing their flight or reducing the insulating property of their feathers, thus making the birds more vulnerable to cold.

Oil endangers fish hatcheries in coastal waters and as well contaminates the flesh of commercially valuable fish. In the Nigerian coastal environment, a large area of the mangrove ecosystem has been destroyed. The mangrove was once a source of both fuel wood for the indigenous people and a habitat for the area’s biodiversity, but is now unable to survive the oil toxicity of its habitat.

Oil spills in the Niger Delta have been a regular occurrence, and the resultant degradation of the surrounding environment has caused significant tension between the people living in the region and the multinational oil companies operating there.

It is only in the past decade that environmental groups, the Federal Government, and the foreign oil companies operating in the Niger Delta began to take steps to mitigate the impacts. Large areas of the mangrove ecosystem have also been destroyed.

The mangrove forest was in the past a major source of wood for the indigenous people. In some places it is no longer in a healthy state to sustain this use. The Idoho oil spill traveled all the way from Akwa Ibom state to Lagos state dispersing oil through the coastal states, up to the Lagos coast.

This culminated in the presence of sheen of oil on the coastal areas of Cross river state, Akwa Ibom state, Rivers state, Bayelsa state, Delta state, Ondo state and Lagos state.

In many villages near oil installations, even when there has been no recent oil spills, an oily sheen can be seen on the water, which in fresh water areas is usually the same water that the people living there use for drinking and washing.

In April 1997, samples taken from water used for drinking and washing by local villagers were analyzed in the U.S. A sample from Luawii, in Ogoni, where there had been no oil production for four years, had 18 ppm of hydrocarbons in the water, 360 times the level allowed in drinking water in the European Union (E.U.).

A sample from Ukpeleide, Ikwerre, contained 34 ppm, 680 times the E.U. standard. Following the major Texaco spill of 1980, it was reported that 180 people died in one community as a result of the pollution. On several occasions, people interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that spills in their area had made people sick who drank the water, especially children.

Sabotage has been a major cause of oil spillage in the country. Oil spill incidents have destroyed the coastal vegetation, polluted drinkable water and led to ethnic and regional crises in the Niger Delta. Several oil spill management policy and efforts are in place to reduce the menace of oil spill incidents in the country.


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