Our environment has been deteriorating in the last two centuries and almost every part of the planet has been touched by it in one way or the other. The primary cause of environmental degradation is human disturbance or actions. The industrial revolution of 19th century mechanized the production and manufacturing of goods and introduced the use of machinery and other heavy equipment which in turn, used fuel as a source of energy, which produces pollutants that deteriorates the environment. The modern technological progress, of which we are so proud, is the cause of the environmental deterioration. Environmental changes are based on factors like urbanization, population, and economic growth, increase in energy consumption and agricultural intensification. The degradation has adverse impacts on humans, plants, animals, and micro-organisms. To cope with this critical situation, humans need to make optimum use and management of resources, sustainable development, adoption of green concept and above all community participation in all developmental activities.


Environmental degradation is an umbrella concept which covers a variety of issues including pollution, biodiversity, animal extinction, deforestation and desertification, global warming, and a lot more. Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources such as air, water and soil, the destruction of ecosystems and the extinction of wildlife. It is defined as any negative change or disturbances to the environment perceived to be deleterious or undesirable.

Environmental degradation is one of the ten threats officially cautioned by the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change of the United Nations. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction defines environmental degradation as “The reduction of the capacity of the environment to meet social and ecological objectives, and needs”. Environmental degradation is of many types and when natural habitats are destroyed or natural resources are depleted, the environment is degraded. Efforts to counteract this problem includes environmental protection and environmental resources management.[2]

Environmental changes are caused by many factors including:

  1. Urbanization
  2. Population growth
  3. Economic growth.
  4. Intensification of agriculture.
  5. Increase in energy use.
  6. Increase in transportation.

The primary cause of environmental degradation is human disturbance. The degree of the environmental impact varies with the cause, the habitat, and the plants and animals that inhabit it. There are a few ways in which environmental degradation works. Classically, resources simply become depleted. The air and water are vulnerable to depletion through overuse, as well as are other natural resources like minerals and oil deposits. Habitat pressures which force animals into a small area can also contribute to resource depletion, as the animals consume a high volume of material in a small area. Pollution is another cause of environmental degradation. When the environment becomes polluted, it means that toxic substances have rendered it unhealthy. Pollution can come from a variety of sources, including vehicle emissions, agricultural runoff, accidental chemical release from factories, and poorly managed harvesting of natural resources.


Humans and their various activities are a major source of environmental degradation. The activity of man contributes to the pollution and degradation of the environment.

  1. Water and Air Pollution

Water and air pollution are unfortunately the most common causes of environmental degradation. Pollution introduces contaminants into the environment that can injure or even kill plants and animal species.

2.        Acid Rain

Acid rain occurs when sulphur dioxide from coal plant emissions combines with moisture present in the air. A chemical reaction creates this acid precipitation. Acid rain can acidify and pollute lakes and streams. It causes similar effects to the soil. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if enough acid rain falls in each environment, it can acidify the water or soil to a point where no life can be sustained. Plants die off. The animals that depend upon them disappear. The condition of the environment deteriorates.

3.    Agricultural Runoff

Farming creates agriculture runoff issues. Agricultural runoff is a deadly source of pollutants which can degrade environments, so much so that the EPA identifies agriculture as the primary source of water pollution. Surface water washes over the soil and into lakes and streams. When this happens, the fertilizers and pesticides used on the farmlands washes into water resources and thereby introducing poisons into waterways which will have dire consequences.

4.   Urban Development

According to several ecologists, urban development is one of the primary causes of environmental degradation. As populations increases, so does the need for more land to build homes and farms. Wetlands are drained and Grasslands are ploughed over.


While it is argued that environmental degradation is most associated with the activities of humans, the fact is that the environment is also constantly changing over the years. With or without the impact of human activities, some ecosystems degrade over time. Things like landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and wildfires can destroy local plant and animal communities to the point where they can no longer function.

This can either come about through physical destruction via natural disaster or by the long-term degradation of resources by the introduction of an invasive alien species to a new habitat. The latter often occurs after hurricanes, when lizards and insects are washed across small stretches of water to foreign environments. Sometimes, the environment cannot keep up with the new species, and degradation occurs.


Environment: There have been different definitions of the concept of “environment” proferred by different scholars and organized bodies/agencies. However, it simply depicts what surrounds us. To Hagget (1975), cited in Anijah – Obi (2001), environment refers to the “sum total of all conditions that surround man at any point in time on the earths surface”.

According to Miller (1975), the term “environment‟ could be perceived as “the aggregate of external conditions that influence the life of an individual or population, specifically the life of man and other living organisms on the earth‟s surface”. The Federal Environmental protection Agency (FEPA) Act of 1990, under section 38 also gave a very lucid definition of environment, thus; Environment includes water, air, land and all plants and human beings and/or animals living there in and the interrelationships which exist among these or any of them. From the above definitions, the term “environment‟ comprises land, air, water and all the physical structures surrounding us. In this

Pollution: the term pollution is a derivation of the word pollute, which means, to make something dirty or no longer pure, especially by adding harmful or unpleasant substances to it. In another development; the committee on pollution of the United States National Research Council (1965) defined pollution as “an undesirable change in physical, chemical or biological characteristics of our air, land and water that may or will harmfully affect human life or that of other.”


Since the discovery of oil in Nigeria in the Niger Delta in the 1950s and its commercialization in 1958, oil exploration and exploitation has been on going in Nigeria. The region has huge oil and gas reserves, and ranks the sixth world’s largest exporter of crude oil and ranked as the third world’s largest producer of palm oil after Malaysia and Indonesia. Oil from the Niger Delta region accounts for more than 90% of Nigeria’s exports and about 80% of the government’s revenue, from as far back as December 1981.

Human activities and those of oil exploration and exploitation raise a number of issues such as depletion of biodiversity, coastal and riverbank erosion, flooding, oil spillage, gas flaring, noise pollution, sewage and wastewater pollution, land degradation and soil fertility loss and deforestation which amounts to environmental issues.

In Nigeria, public concern over the degradation of our natural environment over the years has changed the traditional government approach to environmental law. Prior to 1988 when five ships were discovered loaded with toxic wastes of Italian origin in the small port town of Koko in Southern Nigeria, little public emphasis was placed on environmental protection and conservation.

The Koko incident became the first major catalyst which spurred the government into action and the nation into greater environmental awareness. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency was created by Decree No. 58 of 1988 and in January 1992 the Agency’s authority was significantly strengthened through Decree No.59 of 1992 when the Federal Government incorporated FEPA into the Presidency and expanded its mandate to include bio-diversity conservation and sustainable development of Nigeria’s natural resources.

The oil and gas industry can rightly argue that they have been concerned with environmental laws and regulations for over two decades. This is not surprising after all, the oil and gas industry is a complex combination of interdependent operations comprising exploration and production operations, processing of crude oil into consumer products, transportation and marketing activities and more recently gas extraction.

At each stage of these operations, gaseous, liquid and solid waste materials are produced and discharged. These can, if not properly discharged and controlled, adversely affect the nation’s air, water, and soil. For this reason a wide range of laws and regulations to control pollution in the oil and gas industry have been promulgated.

More recently, the Ogoni saga culminating in the execution of the environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, has more harshly spotlighted environmental issues in the oil and gas industry. The public is now fully sensitised to the issues of environmental management and protection. The public outcry makes it clear that it expects and indeed demands more commitment to environmental protection from both government and all the operators in the industry. Today almost every debate and article on the environment in Nigeria is centred on oil spills, gas flares and the environmental degradation of oil producing communities.


Nigeria has adopted (by ratification, acceptance, approval or accession) various international treaties on environmental protection in this area (i.e. pollution control) namely:

  1. International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil 1954, as amended in 1962.
  2. International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage 1969, (Civil Liability Convention).
  3. International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage 1971, (Fund Convention).
  4. International Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by the Dumping of Wastes and Other Matters 1972, (London Convention).
  5. Convention on Co-operation in the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central Africa Region 1981.
  6. Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal 1989.
  7. International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation 1990.

These international agreements regulate different aspects of oil pollution damage by prohibiting certain conduct, imposing liability, setting up compensation schemes, pollution control and establishing reporting and response systems. Some conventions require implementation by the contracting state by enacting domestic legislation or establishing national systems, e.g. the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil 1954 (as amended in 1962), was implemented in Nigeria by the enactment of the Oil in Navigable Waters Act, 1968. Similarly, the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation requires party states to prepare a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan. The Oil Spill Contingency Plan for Nigeria is scheduled to be launched in 1997.

It is perhaps worth mentioning a significant lacuna in Nigeria treaty law, which is that contrary to popular opinion, we have not yet acceded to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto, better known as MARPOL 73/78. This convention is perhaps the most important international agreement on the subject of marine pollution. It is a common but mistaken belief that Nigeria is a party to this convention, however the International Maritime Organisation (“IMO”) in its official magazine IMO News, published a table showing the status as at 1 June 1996 of IMO conventions and on that table it is clearly shown that Nigeria is not a contracting state in respect of MARPOL 73/78. This is an omission that should be addressed by the Nigerian government.


In 1978, the Amoco Cadiz spilled 220,000 tonnes of crude oil near to the Brittany coastline and in 1989 the Exxon Valdex spilled 40,000 tonnes into Prince William Sound, Alaska. The IMO as a result of these major and disastrous spills decided to convene “an international convention on oil pollution preparedness and response which would provide the framework for international cooperation for combating major oil pollution incident”. The conference convened in London adopted the OPRC convention in 1990.

Nigeria has established a national system for responding promptly and efficiently to oil pollution incidents, otherwise known as the Oil Spill Contingency Plan for Nigeria (“the National Plan”). The plan as prepared by the National Committee for the formulation of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan is ready to be officially launched.


A national oil spill plan is an essential response to the recognition of the inevitability of future spills by a responsible government

“Figures available in 1972 showed that in the circumstances of that time, one accident involving an oil tanker at sea and resulting in serious pollution damage, occurred once every ‘thousand tanker years’. With three thousand tankers at sea at any one time in those days, that meant three major pollution accidents per year

It has been shown that for approximately each 500 exploratory drilling for oil under the seabed, there is one ‘blow-out’ It has likewise been shown that there is likely to be one blow-out for every 2,000 well years at production platforms.

It may well be that the scientific knowledge and technology of today has reduced the risk of accident but the point is clear, there will always be a risk element

Nigeria has had its share of major spills with the Texaco Funiwa-5 Oil well blow-out in January 1980 and the Shell Forcados Tank failure of 1980. The upshot is that oil related activities are such that can result in accident, even where there is no negligence. It is therefore imperative that as a nation one is prepared for the worst.


A national oil spill contingency plan is “intended to delineate an entire national preparedness and response system, including both public and private resources, for responses to emergencies which could result in the spillage of oil into the marine (sic) environment”

A national plan is designed to respond to disasters. Disasters can occur at any stage of oil and gas operations. Exploration, development and production activities for oil and gas carry the risk of well blow-outs. Terminal operations bear the risk of accidental spills caused by the bursting of major delivery lines, while oil transportation by tankers or barges may result in accidental discharges of crude oil or petroleum products caused by collision, groundings or other marine accidents.


Oil Spillages affects not just the plants and sea animals but also the health of humans. Oil spillages in waters kills fishes and robs rishermen of their livelihood. Lands are made barren and polluted  forever and never be useful for agricultural purposes. These are the ills of pollution on the environment which has led to the degradation and depletion of natural resources. Humans have embrace a sustainable development and protection for the earth.









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