Pain, Tears Of Oil Exploitation: Gas Flare, Acid Rain Still Haunt Niger Delta. WHEN oil and gas production started at the Erhoike flow station, Kokori/Orogun bloc, Delta State in 1963, just three years after the nation’s independence, the villagers, chiefly subsistence farmers, who were living in obscurity jumped with joy at the amazing gas flare which illuminated their community every night.
Fire caused by illegal refining in Okpare-Olomu river and environs weekend leading to serious environmental pollution and threat to lives. Photos: Akpokona Omafuaire
Misplaced joy: Several decades after, one of them, a toddler at the time, now a pharmacist, Dr. Otive Igbuzor said: “We were foolishly happy that our town is not in darkness like other towns because the light from Erhoike gives us visibility. It was when I grew up that I knew it was gas flaring and its impact on the immediate environment.”
The unhealthy impact was soon to be felt in other oil communities. Indeed, at several communities in Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states in Niger Delta region, the people are still lamenting the effect of acid rain, fallout of oil pollution and gas flaring on their environment.
Seriously contaminated rain water: A visit to the area showed that besides Kokori and Orogun communities, several other settlements, including Umono, have been experiencing the side effects of flared gas from the flow station. The heat, according to Dr. Igbuzo, “is so intense that locals normally bring their cassava flakes to dry close to the flow station to make Tapioka(a local delicacy produced from cassava)”.
With a high level of poverty, residents of the area rely on rain and earth well as their primary source of water. An inhabitant, Ovie Imodje, explained: “We were relying on rain water for drinking, but in recent years, we have to look for other sources of water as the water has been contaminated with blackish substances and other things we cannot see with the naked eyes.”
Describing it as very demoralising, Igbuzor added: “I was born over 50 years ago and grew up to meet the light at Erhoike. I saw pregnant women having premature labour as a result of the exposure to the light in Erhoike as people used to go there to fry garri; so you cannot know the details of the impact of those things except we carry out a medical study. But from observation, in my compound at Imono, which is about five kilometres from Erhioke, you can see the level of soot.
“We have inhaled dangerous things from the gas flare and as a pharmacist, I know that those things can have dangerous impact on the lungs as nobody knows the kind of cancer that these things may have generated,” he said. Calling on the regulatory bodies to checkmate the trend, Igbuzor said: “It is really a thing that we need to urgently call the companies and government to put an end to because it is destroying the lives of the people, and that is in addition to the oil spills.”
He added: “The aquatic life has been completely destroyed. I do not know the content of the rain, if it is acidic or not; but I know that the rain water is highly contaminated and is no longer safe for human consumption or domestic work.”
Starch-like rain destroying our zinc – Majemite
Bemoaning the gloomy development, Mr. Christopher Majemite, who lives around the Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Company, WRPC, Ekpan, asserted: “When I bought this aluminium zinc for my one-storey building, I was told it would last for 10 years before the colours start wearing off. But two years after, I noticed that the red colours it came in had turned black and peeling off. I found out later it was caused by pollution from acid rain.”
Continuing, he added: “A friend told me it is the common problem in the Niger Delta and that you find more of it in Bayelsa and Rivers. When it rains sometimes, you will notice the water on your vehicle and roof top.
“The rain looks like fresh starch soaked in water. It is doing so much damage to roof tops. When I bought the roof for my house, I was told it was oven-baked so it would last for a long time. But unfortunately it did not last. I felt disappointed. I was told it is also why the first type of zinc that came is no longer fashionable because they change colour within three months, no thanks to acid rain.”
From paint to wall tile
A resident at Ubeji area of Warri which is a short distance from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Mr. Fred Omagbemi, informed Vanguard INSIGHT that he was advised to use wall tiles on his house because acid rain makes paint on walls not to last long. “I painted this my house three different times in two years until a friend advised me to use tiles if I want to appreciate the aesthetic quality of my house. He said that due to pollution and acid rain, paints fade away from our walls too quickly.
“I took his advice and today I’m happy because the tiles not only protects my house, but also leaves it looking beautiful. You would also have noticed that many house owners are turning to wall tiles because of acid rain; wall paints no longer serve their purpose in this area because of acid rain coming from the pollution of our environment.
Eyide Gabriel, a lawyer in Sapele also narrated his experience. He said a special roof he got from a popular roofing sheet manufacturing company in Sapele lost its colours quickly largely due to the acid rain.
“I remember there was a spillage around Ejekikoni in Sapele Local Government Area. Part of the spill was as a result of pipeline integrity though there was a little of sabotage, but this acid rain is a product of pollution. Our area should be cleaned up to give us clean environment. Gas flaring should be stopped. We want good biodiversity to our ecosystem.
“I think I bought my roof from Eternit in 2013; after the first raining season I noticed the colour was changing, becoming too dark and brownish. I asked them and they asked if I had trees close to my roof and I told them I did not understand the connection. They said it would be better, that it was as a result of weather. Same too with asbestos I used here. I noticed it has changed colours.”
In Koko, Warri North Local Government Area, Mr. Toristemose Bille decried the impact of acid rain on his roof. Mr. Bille who lives on Iwere College Road, a suburb surrounded by some oil companies, said he was told when he bought the roofing materials from a company in Benin City that it would last for years, adding: “But in just three years now the roof has lost its colour, you can see the rust. This is purely a case of acid rain.”
Poor villagers can’t afford anti-corrosive materials – Ovueziyen
An indigene of Ozoro community, also in Delta State, Mr. Richard Ovueziyen, who also bewailed the effect of acid rain in oil-rich Okpaile village, stated: “Acid rain is the resultant effect of gas flaring, which easily destroys roofing sheets by corroding them faster than you can ever imagine.
“When the associated gases that go into the atmosphere like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide mix up with atmospheric moisture, they come down as sulphur acid and nitric acid. These acids have corrosive tendencies and affect all roofing sheets within 10-kilometre square radius of the flare sites.
“The people in affected communities are mostly poor farmers, who cannot afford modern materials that are anti-corrosive. Acid rain does not only affect the roofing sheets, but also the buildings by making such buildings lose their structural integrity. This is because, when the roofing sheets corrode, it causes leakages which affect the wooden materials.”
On how often the people change their roofing sheets, he said: “I do not see how any sane person would like to live comfortably in a house with leaking roofs. They replace them as often as the need arises which of course, happens at regular intervals. In most communities where the destructive impact of acid rain is affecting the buildings, there is usually evidences of patched new roofing sheets in four out of every 10 houses”.
…Affecting agricultural products
Speaking to Vanguard INSIGHT, an indigene of Uzere, Isoko South Local Government Area of Delta State, Mr. MaimoniUbre-Joe, said the adverse impact of acid rain on agricultural activities was unquantifiable. He said: “Here in Uzere, the second community in Nigeria where oil was discovered, acid rain inhibits the growth of plants. It acidifies the soil, depletes the soil nutrients, thereby affecting the agricultural yields.
“For some time now, people who patronise us have been complaining that our agricultural products are losing their nutritional value.” A graduate of Agriculture, who simply gave his name as Benjamin, said: ‘’Pollution is not good for human. The rain water is acidic. It affects crops and the soil is no longer fertile as it used to be. The water is polluted. We have pipe-borne water but it is not functional because of lack of power supply; as such we go to the streams which are equally affected by oil exploration.”