Environmental impact of illegal refineries on the vegetation of the Niger delta, Nigeria
Beyond the economic considerations of crude oil theft in Nigeria, the environmental degradation associated with ‘illegal oil refineries’ require urgent attention. To examine the impact of illegal oil refineries in the Niger Delta, Nigeria, the floristic composition of the fresh water swamp forest at refining sites in two river systems and a brackish water system respectively, were compared with those of relatively undisturbed sites as control in three states of Nigeria (Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers). It is reported that the floristic composition of the natural freshwater swamp forest (within transects considered as control) had 23 tree species (diameter > 30cm dbh and above) out of which 73.91% and 82.61% of the taxa were lost at the refining sites in Delta and Bayelsa States respectively. In the brackish water ecosystem of Rivers State, five species of Mangroves and two species of grasses were encountered in the control stations. All the mangrove plants and marine grasses at the refining sites and within two kilometers along the river (upstream and downstream) the refining sites were dead. Similarly, a total of 32 non-wood species were recorded in the 2 control sites of the fresh water swamp. All the non-wood species at the refining site in the fresh water area (Delta and Bayelsa States) died. The activities of illegal refineries severely impacted biodiversity, aesthetic scenery of the forest, regeneration of plant species and destruction of wildlife habitat, disruption of water cycle and loss of medicinal plant species. Youth empowerment, through vocational training and environmental education can ameliorate the situation.
Keywords: Environmental degradation, Illegal Refineries, Vegetation, Niger Delta