Cynthia A. Janak
August 19, 2006
The "crude" truth -- about pollution and global warming
By Cynthia A. Janak

I was going to write about BP and their safety record but my research into this topic demonstrated me that BP is not alone. What happened to the pipeline in Alaska is not the first occurrence of this type of disaster. Pipeline ruptures are common in the oil industry. We just do not hear about them. Why? Our media does not report about such things because it happens in a poor country like Nigeria or some other country outside the US.

What I am going to focus on here is the country of Nigeria mainly because Nigeria has been in the news with its political unrest and attacks on the oil industry. Here is a little background about the companies involved with oil exploration.

The Nigerian Government has agreements with several oil companies. It is important for you to know who the players are in this scenario to understand the impact that the big oil companies have around the world.

Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) operations mainly onshore or in the mangrove swamp.

    - 40% Nigeria total oil production
    - 80 oil fields
    - joint venture with:
      - Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) 55%
      - Shell 30%
      - TotalFinaElf 10%
      - Agip 5%

Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) fields located in the Warri region west of the Niger River and offshore in shallow water.

    - in the past has been the second largest producer of oil in Nigeria
    - plans to increase production to 600,000 bpd
      - Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation 60%
      -Chevron 40%

Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (MPNU) operates in shallow water off Akwa Ibom state.

    - is the second largest producer of oil in Nigeria
    - plans to increase production to 900,000 bpd 2000
      - Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation 60%
      - Mobil 40%
      - Mobil 50% interest in a Production Sharing Contract for a deep water block offshore

Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited (NAOC) small onshore fields

    - Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation 60%
    - Agip 20%
    - Phillips Petroleum 20%

Elf Petroleum Nigeria Limited (EPNL) on and offshore fields

    - Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation 60%
    - Elf 40%

Texaco Overseas Petroleum Company of Nigeria Unlimited (TOPCON) five offshore fields

    - Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation 60%
    - Texaco 20%
    - Chevron 20%

Other oil companies with interests in Nigeria include BP, Statoil, Total, Pan Ocean, British Gas, Tenneco, Deminex and SunOil.

Now you know all the players in the drilling for oil in Nigeria. These types of joint ventures are typical in any oil field throughout the world. The winner in Nigeria is the government who receives 60% of the profit from the fields. The sad thing here is that the Nigerian people, for the most part live on $1 USD a day. They are not compensated for the destruction to their lands nor do they receive any monies from the government in regards to workable utilities, compensation for land use or local public facilities such as schools and hospitals. These are things that we in the United States take for granted. We expect our government and local authorities to supply us with these services as our right. This is not so in other countries.

Previously, I wrote an article about global warming and I mentioned the role that Mother Nature plays with the increase in volcanic activity, etc. What I did not know at the time was about the flaring that is going on in countries outside of the United States by the oil companies. I did not know about the abuses to our environment because of the oil companies outside of our world called the United States media.

I am appalled that the United States and the United Nations are allowing these abuses to go unchecked. I am also appalled that our president is courting the governments of these countries in the name of free trade, etc. I have hundreds of pages of documents describing the abuses and the people behind the atrocities that occur because of the greed involved with oil and profit. It sickens me to know what is happening to other people around the world.

I had a friend tell me the other day that they did not care what the oil companies did as long as her stock dividend went up and they made money from it. Their comment was "Why should I care what goes on in Africa or anywhere else in the world as long as I get paid." This person is a good person and would do anything for you but I have seen their dark side that day and I was dismayed and realized that I did not know them as well as I thought.

So to begin with, I am going to tell you about gas flaring. I feel this is the most damaging to our world as a whole and it is a major factor in global warming gases.


This is a common practice that the oil companies use at the well site. Oil companies will routinely flare gas in the course of producing and processing oil. What flaring does is it disposes waste gases using combustion. The Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) in Canada data shows that 92 percent of the gases globally were used or conserved in some manner. This in itself is not an ecological catastrophe when looking at it on a global scale.

"Flaring in the country "has contributed more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa combines" according to the World Bank."

So, what is flaring. Flaring is a 'cocktail' of toxic substances emitted in flares. Flaring produces the primary GHGs (Greenhouse Gas), CO2 and methane (CH), smoke with aerosol effects that also contribute to global warming.

Emissions resulting from the combustion of AG in this open, uncontrolled manner will be a mix of smoke, more precisely referred to as particulate matter; combustion by-products, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxides and carcinogenic substances, such as benz[a]pyrene and dioxin; and unburned fuel components, including benzene, toluene, xylene, and hydrogen sulfide. The Canadian Public Health Association has noted over 250 identified toxins.[ 65 ]

Flaring also contributes significantly to emissions of carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen. Along with volatile organic compounds, these three gases are classified by the IPCC as "reactive": their main role is in the formation of tropospheric ozone (O3) colloquially, photochemical smog or haze, often common in the Delta which is the third most important greenhouse gas.[ 60 ] Figures for these are also included in the National Communication, but again should be treated with caution.

The Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School, March 2002 has a 73 page report about the health effects of flaring and what it does to climate change.

One of the items that they talk about is acid rain that is a by-product of flaring. In Nigeria, acid rain has polluted the streams and lakes, killed vegetation and crops, and damages buildings. (Acid rain is emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOX) combined with atmospheric moisture, which forms sulfuric acid and nitric acid.)

It is possible to estimate the extent to which emissions from gas flares are causing health effects among citizens of the Niger Delta. To simplify our analysis, we focus only on citizens of Bayelsa State and their exposure to two pollutants: particulate matter and benzene.

Recent data show that the population density of Bayelsa State is roughly 250 persons per square kilometer (km2).[ 72 ] Assuming there are 17 on-shore flow stations in Bayelsa State, it is reasonable to assume that, at this population density, 35,000 persons live within 1,325 meters of a flow station, and that 333,000 persons live within 5,000 meters of a flow station.

On the basis of current information, the above estimates are the minimum extent of the human toll that gas flaring can reasonably be expected to cause in the Bayelsa State. For the following reasons, it is reasonable to assume that the actual human toll is considerably higher, perhaps by several orders of magnitude:

  • Gas flaring occurs at dozens of additional flow stations in the Niger Delta that are outside of Bayelsa State.

  • Persons residing substantially closer than 1,325 meters to gas flares will be exposed to levels of particulate matter substantially higher than 21 ug/m3. This population segment will suffer higher rates of premature death, respiratory illnesses among child and asthma attacks.

  • Persons residing substantially closer than 5,000 meters to gas flares will be exposed to levels of benzene substantially higher than 2.3 ug/m3. This population segment will suffer higher rates of cancer.

  • Additional cases of premature death, respiratory illnesses among children, asthma attacks and cancer will occur from exposure to lower but still significant levels of particulate matter and benzene that occur beyond distances of 1,325 meters and 5,000 meters from gas flares, respectively.

  • Gas flaring releases additional pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, dioxins, nitrogen oxides, toluene, xylene and hydrogen sulfide, which cause other serious health effects that are not quantified in the above analysis.

That is only part of the problem with the oil companies. The next one is oil spills. From everything that I have read about the oil spills in Nigeria it is under dispute as to whether all leakage from sabotage is from the citizens. The citizens say that companies contracted to do the cleanup of oil spills cause some of the leakage. The rest of the leakage is due to the age and lack of maintenance to the pipelines. However, no one seems interested in knowing the truth because from reports there have been little done in regards to any investigation by the oil company or the government.

The Human Rights Watch Organization had this to say about the environmental impacts of oil and the communities of the Nigeria.

Oil production has had damaging effects on the environment of the oil producing region, though the extent of the damage is subject to dispute. The Niger Delta is one of the world's largest wetlands, and the largest in Africa: it encompasses over 20,000 square kilometers, of which perhaps 6,000 square kilometers is mangrove forest, and has the high biodiversity typical of extensive swamp and forest areas, with many unique species of plants and animals. Despite decades of oil production, there is surprisingly little good quality independent scientific data on the overall or long-term effects of hydrocarbon pollution on the Delta, yet oil-led development has clearly seriously damaged the environment and the livelihood of many of those living in the oil producing communities. The oil companies operating in Nigeria maintain that their activities are conducted to the highest environmental standards; but Nigerian environmental laws, in most respects comparable to their international equivalents, are poorly enforced.

Occasional large oil spills kill fish and agricultural crops, and pollute water, with serious effects for the communities and families affected, especially on dry land or in freshwater swamp zones where spills are contained in a small area. The long-term effect of these major pollution incidents, regular small spills, and effluent deliberately discharged to the environment is largely unevaluated. Poorly designed causeways and canals used by the oil industry affect the hydrology of the seasonally flooded freshwater swamp and the brackish water of the mangrove forest, again killing off crops, destroying fishing grounds, and damaging drinking water supplies. Compensation for such damage is inadequate, and in the absence of a properly functioning court system there is no effective recourse to an independent arbiter to determine the value of the damaged property. The oil companies state that many spills are caused by sabotage, and, in accordance with Nigerian law, they pay no compensation in such cases; but the determination that sabotage has occurred is largely left in their own hands, increasing the chances of injustice. At the same time, in an area of Nigeria where there is great pressure on cultivable and habitable land, land is expropriated for oil production under laws which allow no effective due process protections for landholders and only inadequate compensation for the loss of livelihood of those affected. Although the amount of land used for oil production is small, by comparison with the total area of the Niger Delta, the effect on individual landholders can be devastating. The Niger Delta clearly faces many environmental problems that are not the direct responsibility of the oil industry, but these distinctions are irrelevant to those who have their land confiscated or polluted, without receiving compensation to the value of the benefit lost.

In Nigeria the pipelines and other facilities related to oil processing are over 20 years old. All reports say that the pipelines are corroding and the maintenance is insufficient. From what I have read, it is easy to deduce that because of the lax enforcement of environmental laws in underdeveloped countries the oil companies can trim costs for more profit.

This last picture shows the condition of a pipeline in Nigeria. Does this picture look as if the oil company is doing a good job by maintaining this line? My opinion is no. Moreover, why should a police officer be checking a pipeline? Shouldn't someone with the expertise in oil pipeline maintenance do this job?

The bottom line here is that the oil companies are bringing in record profits over the last several years and yet they do not feel it is necessary to monitor the pipelines adequately to avoid ruptures. The oil companies do not feel it is necessary to severely limit flaring to prevent further global warming. This is not just limited to areas of Africa. These abuses to the environment are worldwide. People are getting sick and dieing from the pollution that is the direct result of the lack of environmental control enforcement by the governments and the oil companies.

What needs to happen here is that more people and communities around the world need to stand up and file lawsuits against the oil companies for these abuses. I know that this is hard to do but it needs to be done.

People in the industrialized countries need to stand up for the little guy and speak out against what is happening here and in other countries. Our world is at stake here because if this is left unchecked we will have no world to live in because we will be in another ice age. I, personally, do not want this to happen. I want my children and their offspring to have a life. I do not want them to die of starvation because there is not enough land to grow crops because of the longer winters.

Maybe the reason that the oil executives do not pay attention to this is because they have a place that will be immune to the ravages of an ice age that is paid for by their million dollar salaries.

© Cynthia A. Janak

Comments feature added August 14, 2011

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Cynthia A. Janak

Cynthia Janak is a freelance journalist, mother of three, foster mother of one, grandmother of five, business owner, Chamber of Commerce member... (more)


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