Friday, April 27, 2012

Crude World: Chapter 3 Summary

Bonny Oil Terminal in Nigeria
Chapter 3 of Crude World deals with the degradation of Nigeria. The communities in the Niger Delta region receive little to no compensation for the massive amounts of oil extracted along the Niger River. Companies such as Shell have brought projectors to villages to showcase people in America with modern amenities. This is part of a promise that the oil extracted nearby will provide a better lifestyle for the locals living nearby. Oil is shown as a good thing to the natives, but in reality it just causes violence and greed. Nigeria is the eighth largest supplier of the world’s oil. Even though “$400 billion from oil [has been earned] in recent decades, nine out of ten citizens live on less than $2 a day and one out of five children dies before his fifth birthday” (Maass). Furthermore, “the World Bank estimates that 80 percent of Nigeria’s oil wealth has gone to 1 percent of the population” (Maass). Revenue from the oil goes directly to the national government where it is stored and not distributed. The vast oil reserves of Nigeria have made people “poorer, watching as their land and water became polluted by and industry they did not own, had no control over and derived almost no income from” (Maass).

Militias have formed in Nigeria that fight the oil corporations, as well as each other. One example are the fighters of Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo Asari. Groups that are led by these rebel leaders are often attacked. While the boss, or head of the group is living a relatively nice life in a city, their “followers were perishing in the delta from their suppurating wounds” (Maass). While Asari and his fighters are against the companies they fight against, they are hypocritical because they are “receiving money from the oil companies, in the form of ransoms paid for workers taken hostage or protection money to help defend oil installations from . . . their own attacks” (Maass). Nigerians are responsible for “bunkering”, the siphoning of oil from existing pipelines. Shell and other companies lose roughly fifteen percent of their output to bunkering. The rebels want the corporations to leave their homes, but at the same time they are relying on them for funds when they sell the stolen oil. According to Maass “all sides share a mutual interest in avoiding a long-term closure of the industry because all derive income from the flow of oil”.

“Ateke Tom had taken a shortcut to the position of rebel leader: much of his funding and weaponry allegedly came from the local governor. This is often the way things go in collapsing states. To undermine a semi-popular rebel like Asari, a government, realizing that its own forces are inept or too unpopular to win a hearts-and-minds struggle, funds a new rebel force that it quietly controls. If the new one becomes too popular and uncontrollable, yet another one is created to take on the last” (Maass).

Corporations and the army work together to attack rival groups. While executives will deny involvement with the government in the attacks against rebels, they show signs of collaborating. Plants are evacuated before military action is taken. The only reason the plants would be evacuated is because “the company knew something was going to happen” (Maass). Shell for example provided funds for the soldiers that attacked the village across from their Soku plant. While they did not buy ammunition for the assault, they payed for everything else.

Money that is given to the government for oil production often never gets to locals who are being affected by the plants, it is stolen by officials before it can even reach them. This is why “the people in the Delta feel cheated” (Maass).

When oil is extracted, natural gas comes up as a byproduct. This is known as “associated gas”. It can be transported which is expensive because of infrastructure costs. It can be reinjected into the ground. Or it can be burned off. The companies in Nigeria choose the later most of the time since it is cheap. Flaring, as it is known, is not environmentally friendly as it releases massive amounts of greenhouse gasses. It also release many chemicals that are extremely harmful to humans. A developed country is heavily restricted in flaring, such as the U.S., which flares about one percent of its natural gas excesses. Nigeria on the other hand burns around fifty-five percent of its natural gas produced from oil extraction.

Sangama, a small village across from the Soku natural gas plant, consists of “a few dozen huts crammed into an area the size of a football field” (Maass). The plant has electricity, running water, helipads, and many other modern conveniences. Yet, across the river, there is a village struggling to get by. Shell expanded the plant and provided the locals with a generator, but since the village could not afford fuel, it sits and rusts along the river. Shell has taken incentives to help communities such as Elem Sangama by adding water towers, markets, health clinics, electrical lines, and generators. This seems like a generous offer, but most of it is useless. The water towers are without pumps, markets without food, health clinics missing medicine, generators lacking fuel. Chevron built a health clinic in the delta. Jealous communities destroyed it by setting it ablaze. Chevron generously rebuilt the clinic, only to have it burned to the ground a second time. The corporations try to be generous to one community, another one gets jealous and ruins it for everyone. Literally, the corporations are burnt on the idea of helping out.

The government of Nigeria has provided Shell and other companies access to natural resources. It is not the corporation’s job or place to provide modern conveniences to the country. They have been granted rights to extract oil and do their job. The government is responsible for developing their own country with funds received from oil. If they choose to group funds and not distribute money to their inhabitants, that has nothing to do with the oil companies.

The oil extraction along the Niger river has taken a toll on the environment. Spills are common as well as clearcuts where equipment has been installed. This results in dead zones where a bird might be seen along a river every ten minutes, while there are little signs of other life.

All of the problems that are arising from the conflicts are not being resolved or helped for that matter. The people of the villages are not going to be helped by “the government, the army, Shell, Asari, Ateke Tom” (Maass), or Maass himself. Shell and other companies help communities establish modern conveniences, and on the other hand are accomplices to army attacks on the same villages.

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