Oil fires in Nigeria can be source of cash for impoverished residents

Some residents in Nigeria’s oil-rich river delta have resorted to setting fires to an oil pipeline to force companies like Shell to pay citizens to enter the area to put out the fire. One of the most recent blazes, which was extinguished only about two weeks ago, raged for 45 days, sickening nearby residents and polluting the area with thick black smoke before Shell finally agreed to pay some $800 to locals to be allowed in to extinguish it. The tactic and others like it, including draining oil from the pipeline to sell, as well as outright sabotage, stem from desperation and resentment. Nigeria is the United States’ fifth-largest oil supplier; exports to the U.S. rose by $20 billion in the last five years. Yet little of the oil money actually reaches the poor residents of the oil-rich region where most of the crude is produced. Says local activist Ledum Mitee, “Our people are dying, it’s only when oil stops that they take notice.”