PETROLEUM: CURSE AND BLESSING!




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By Jonas Odocha
This title has been carefully chosen to remind us that just as every coin has two sides, so also does this risk and capital intensive venture called Petroleum Business. To the uninitiated in this Oil and Gas business, he or she may not be aware that the search for petroleum has been an old pursuit dating back to biblical times. You may recall that Noah’s ark was made water-tight and leak-proof with Pitch or Asphalt, both of which are of petroleum material? Let us refer to Genesis 6: 13-14: “And God said unto Noah ….. Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.” When you also go through ancient literature dating back to 450 B.C., mention was made of the writings of Herodotus in which he described oil seepages in Carthage [present day Tunisia] and the Greek island of Zachynthus. It is also a known fact that throughout the first millennium A.D. oil and asphalt were gathered from natural seepages in many parts of the world. Can you believe that the early uses for oil were for Medication, Waterproofing and Warfare? Up until the mid-nineteenth century, asphalt, oil and by-products were only produced from seepages, shallow pits, and hand-dug shafts, as opposed to what you and I are witnessing today!
Back home to Nigeria, the search dates back to 1908 when a German concern, the Nigerian Bitumen Company began to investigate the seepages of bitumen occurring along the Nigerian coast, east of Lagos. Various other efforts at search for petroleum were disrupted by the onset of both World Wars, until Shell D’Arcy, the precursor of the present Shell Petroleum Development Company [SPDC] returned to Nigeria in 1947. These early efforts led to the discovery of commercial quantities of oil and gas in the Niger Basin in 1956 and since then other International Oil Companies [IOCs] joined in the exploration and exploitation of the huge petroleum resources of Nigeria. This piece is to look at both the blessings and curses associated with this Petroleum Business in Nigeria, because both are evidently present and we must not only harp on the side without recognizing and addressing the negative side as well.
Prior to the discovery of oil in Nigeria shortly before we gained independence from Britain in 1960, and solid minerals resources were the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. There were the Groundnut Pyramids in the North, the Cocoa Plantations in the West and the Palm Oil Produce in the East, among other agricultural produce. Tin Mining in the Plateau and Coal Mining in Enugu were sources of revenue from the solid minerals resources, contributing significantly to the foreign reserves of the Nigerian Economy.
The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century showed that Energy is a veritable ingredient for industrialisation, and hence propelled Petroleum Resources [Oil and Gas] to displace Coal as a major energy resource as a result of its efficiency and cleanliness. Thus the search, discovery and exploitation of Petroleum became a priority venture among nations endowed with this resource. The discovery of petroleum in Nigeria thus became a huge BLESSING as the global demand continued to rise as well as the revenue generation from its exportation. Many companies associated with this business also sprang up providing job opportunities and businesses for the citizenry which in return contributed to ECONOMIC GROWTH and NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS.
However, there are also inherent CHALLENGES associated with petroleum and its related activities such as during its EXPLORATION, EXPLOITATION, TRANSMISSION and UTILISATION, and in Nigeria these arise mainly from the NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION AND HOST COMMUNITY HOSTILITIES. But more importantly, for the teeming populations of the citizenry, there are concerns associated with the inexplicable LEVEL OF POVERTY prevalent in a nation endowed with vast natural resources.
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This is the other side of the coin! Why is there this PARADOX OF BLESSINGS AND CURSES associated with petroleum occurrence in Nigeria? First and Foremost in the face and advent of petroleum, Nigeria abandoned its “TRADITIONAL” natural resource base: AGRICULTURE and SOLID MINERALS, and embraced Petroleum which not only is a wasting asset but also a very volatile commodity. No nation ever makes much progress in economic growth and national development by depending on a MONO-ECONOMY. In this context this  ABANDONMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND THE SOLID MINERALS SECTOR is nothing short of a CURSE IN DISGUISE.
Again another worrisome angle is the NEGATIVE IMPACT OF PETROLEUM ON OUR FINITE ENVIRONMENT. Our environment which is comprised of all the LAND/ROCK MASSES, AIR/ATMOSPHERE, WATER BODIES, PLANT KINGDOM, ANIMAL KINGDOM constitute the totality of mother-nature. They are so inter-linked that degradation of one equally affects the other and that is why the environmental impact of petroleum activities has become a global concern. The most dreaded impact  on our delicate and finite environment is that caused by OIL SPILLAGE. The factors responsible for this include:
EQUIPMENT FAILURE, HUMAN ERROR, SABOTAGE, THEFT.
Oil spills on land lead to degradation of farmlands and destruction of crops and agricultural produce. When it impacts on water bodies it affects aquatic life and reduces aquatic yield but more importantly reduces the availability of potable water.
 The release of gaseous emissions into the atmosphere affects human health as inhalation of poisonous gases may lead to asphyxiation and death. Also when gases are flared the associated thermal pollution impacts on animal life and plant life which may eventually degenerate to FOOD INSECURITY.
Little wonder that most communities in the petroleum-rich Niger Delta Region have been deprived of their traditional sources of livelihood and income. The crisis in the region linked to youth restiveness and militancy is as a consequence of this environmental degradation and government neglect. THANKS TO THE NIGER DELTA AMNESTY DEAL OF GOVERNMENT!
There are curses and potential curses that can be reduced to the BAREST MINIMUM through appropriate legislation and monitoring of ADHERENCE TO REGULATIONS and GUIDELINES of PETROLEUM INDUSTRY OPERATIONS. Petroleum as a resource should be a blessing and not a curse.
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