Nasarawa Oil Exploration Will Make the Social and Environmental Crises Worse

Nasarawa State Governor Abdullahi Sule and the NNPC Ltd., boss, Mele Kyari

President of the Federation, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) recently inaugurated oil exploration in Nasarawa state. The exercise is to be steered by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC). And the exploration will be undertaken in the Ebenyi-A Exploration Well located in the Middle Benue Trough in Obi local government area of the state.

This is part of an ongoing campaign to explore crude oil and gas in the frontier basins of Nigeria. It includes the Anambra Platform, the Calabar Embankment, Chad Basin, Dahomey Basin, Sokoto Basin, Bida Basin, Benue Trough, and Ultra-Deepwater Niger Delta.

In his tweet announcing the exploration’s commencement at the end of March, Buhari claimed that the project would “deliver outcomes that benefit surrounding communities”, “lead to greater prosperity for all Nigerians”, and “enhance our overall energy security”. However, this venture runs contrary to the energy proposal devised by this government. 

The government is investing in the extraction of oil, which is contrary to the carbon neutrality goal it set itself. In August 2022, Vice President Yemi Osibanjo unveiled Nigeria’s Energy Transition Plan. He publicised it as a roadmap toward a carbon-neutral economy, improved environmental practices, and reduced energy poverty. 

These exploration plans will encourage increased activities in the oil sector which will hinder the aim of attaining carbon neutrality in 40 years.

Although the president directed NNPC to “mitigate the environmental consequences of these oil exploration activities”, it is unlikely for a few reasons that the company will actually heed this lame admonition in its pursuit of the vital resource for the purpose of profit.

First, there is no indication in the announcement of deterrents to potential overreaches by NNPC during the exploration which would protect the people of the region.

It also does not clearly state the limitations to NNPC’s actions for environmental protection. The extent of the “consequences” is left to the discretion of the profit-seeking parties at NNPC.

Precedence, particularly in the Niger Delta region also points to the likelihood of a  dismissal of the president’s counsel, assuming that it is more than rhetoric in the first place. 

In the Niger Delta region, mortality rates soared whilst life expectancy crashed following several unattended oil spills due to oil extraction. Neither companies nor the government prevented any of the oil spills or provided a lasting solution in the aftermath.

Companies often opt for investigation and compensation to the residents after the damage is done. However, victims often contest these compensations, as they are seldom sufficient for the damage suffered.

There are, as yet, no observable restrictions to the powers granted to NNPC in exploring in Nasarawa. Unearthing the oil and turning a profit is the key priority of the company; safeguarding the environment and consideration for the surrounding residents will be a distant second. Therefore, these liberties are likely to be undertaken by NNPC without contest.

In the Niger Delta region, oil exploration has led to the pollution of waterways. Fishers and farmers have suffered devastating losses in yield as fishes either die or migrate because of the oil spills whilst the soils and waterways have compromised the farming structure. People, biotic life, and the environment suffer. Biodiversity loss and environmental degradation have become the order of the day, with a significant decline in people’s quality of life.

There is also an increase in insecurity in the region. The oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta has fallen victim to exploitation and instability. With the rampancy of oil theft through the pipelines, which is largely perpetuated by well-connected bunkerers, any new oil discovery will require significant human resources and funding to safeguard the infrastructure. We could expect these occurrences in Nasarawa.

The precedent of company behaviour in Nigeria specifically in the oil sector signals irreparable damage to the economy, environment, security, and health of the residents of the region, which would outweigh any potential economic and production activity that oil exploration would generate in the region.

At this point in human history and the maldevelopment of Nigeria, we should be clear about what to do with crude oil. It is very simple, for the sake of those of us living today and for there to be a future for coming generations, we simply must keep the oil in the soil!

by Iretimide Esther OSUNYIKANMI



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