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Oil is by far Nigeria's biggest industry, and source of suffering.
After months of negotiations, Exxon Mobil Corp. has signed a 20 year lease on three oil fields in Nigeria that produce over 500,000 barrels per day, the Associated Press reports.
Other oil giants, like Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, had leases that expired as far back as 2008, according to Reuters. The Nigerian government is working to update laws that would increase taxes and royalties, but the law has been stalled in the legislature for years. This leaves Nigeria’s largest industry without clear regulations, Reuters reports.
"We are very pleased with the outcome," Mark Ward, Exxon's head of operations in Nigeria, told Reuters. "This has been a long journey and some would say a difficult journey to accomplish what we have done here today."
Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil exporter, and the U.S.’s fifth biggest supplier. Oil exports provide 95 percent of the country’s foreign currency earnings and 80 percent of its budgetary revenues, according to the CIA World Factbook. Oil reserves in Nigeria are bigger than the U.S. and Mexico combined, National Geographic reports.
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Despite this abundance, Nigeria imports fuel for everyday use because it doesn’t have the capacity to refine the oil.
Nigerian people are among the poorest in the world, with 70 percent of people farming for a living. In a 2007 article, National Geographic details the pollution, violence and corruption caused by Nigerian oil, calling it, “The Curse of the Black Gold.”
“Oil fouls everything in southern Nigeria. It spills from the pipelines, poisoning soil and water. It stains the hands of politicians and generals, who siphon off its profits. It taints the ambitions of the young, who will try anything to scoop up a share of the liquid riches — fire a gun, sabotage a pipeline, kidnap a foreigner,” wrote Tom O'Neill.
Five years after that article was written, oil spills and fires continue to damage Nigeria’s natural environment, and to contribute to the suffering of the people. About six miles off the coast of the oil-rich Niger Delta, a 130 foot-wide fire has been burning for over a month. Chevron Nigeria says it could take months to put out the fire, the BBC reports.
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Meanwhile, locals on shore are afraid to eat fish, a staple part of their diet, and local leaders are asking the oil companies to help relocate the people. The BBC’s Mark Lobel traveled to the fire:
“Looking on, it was like watching a volcano erupting, fire spewing in every direction," he writes. "On a boat 50m from the fire, we saw black bubbles rise to the surface and black smoke spread into the air. Chevron had previously assured me there was no black smoke since the time a little fuel spilled just after the explosion in January.”
Last month, Amnesty International released a report, blasting Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Nigeria’s largest oil producer for failing to clean up oil spills.
“Amnesty International [has] serious concerns about Shell’s impact on human rights and the environment in the Niger Delta," reads the report, "And the company’s failure to take adequate action to end damaging practices and redress decades of harm."