The Price of Oil

Nigeria should be a massively rich country. It's the most populous country in Africa, and is the world's sixth leading oil producer. Over a quarter trillion dollars in oil has been lifted from Nigerian soils and waters in the last 40 years. But after years of military rule and rampant corruption, fueled by these oil monies, the country is mired in billions of dollars in debt and is wracked with poverty.

This especially is the case, ironically, in the region where 100% of Nigeria's oil comes from the Niger Delta region. Filled with dozens of traditional farming villages and ethnic minorities, the Delta region has almost no representation in government and yet provides 80% of Nigeria's revenues with its oil. Villages without basic services watch helplessly as billions of dollars in oil flow from their lands and then are left to deal with the environmental and health effects of oil spills and towering gas flares.

Huge amounts of natural gas emissions are an inevitable byproduct of oil drilling, and there are several options for dealing with it. Gas can be harnessed for power, or, if that's not possible, be re-injected into the ground. The cheapest and most destructive alternative is flaring, simply setting the gas on fire. Gas flares never go out there's enough gas from even a modest oil well to burn off for decades, day and night.

Gas flares are everywhere in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. But few are dramatic as the Oshie flare, owned by the Italian oil company Agip. The Oshie flare is almost on top of a village of 1,700 families, the traditional farmers and fishers of Akaraolu. The villagers were promised jobs and money when Agip first erected the flare in 1972. But none of it materialized, leaving Akaraolu with foundering fishing and agriculture and health problems as a result of the 200-hundred-foot high roaring column of flame in their midst. Constant appeals to Agip and the Nigerian federal government for respite have gone unheeded. Most villagers don't even remember a time before what they simply call "The Fire" loomed over their lives.

Dagogo Joel's arm was burned by the Oshie gas flare when he was a child. The flare--lit since early 70s and adjacent to Joel's home village of Akaraolu -- occasionally spews out flaming liquids on the countryside, and burned Joel's arm while he was fishing with his father.

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