What Happens When Oil Fuels More Than An Engine?
Since 1986, the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia has attacked the Caño Limón oil pipeline over 900 times; in fact, it has been punctured so many times that locals call it “the flute.” By 2002, such attacks had caused 2.6 million barrels of oil to spill and leak into the lakes, rivers, and soil – more than 10 times the oil spills in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.
While rebel movements can access diamonds with simple shovels, sieves, and sources of water, they would need much more complex equipment to access oil. This is why oil is virtually impossible for rebels to steal. However, rebel forces, unable to extract oil directly, find other means to use oil to their advantage.
Colombia provides a good example. In the 1960s, leftist guerilla groups formed in Colombia to fight against corruption and the increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a select few. Two of these are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which operates mainly in the coca-rich regions of southern Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN), which operates mainly in the oil-rich regions of northeast Colombia. In response, the military created right-wing paramilitary groups in an effort to control rebel forces; however, the paramilitary became notorious for massacres of civilians.
Since the 1940s, some rebel guerilla groups, paramilitary forces, and the government have been caught in civil war. Though this civil war has its roots in the struggle for social justice, crude oil and cocaine have financed, fueled, and prolonged the conflict.
In 1983, Colombia’s billion-barrel Caño Limón oil field was discovered. The Caño Limón pipeline, owned by both state-based Ecopetrol and Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum, transports about 35 million barrels of oil annually! In 1986, Colombia went from being a net importer of oil to being a net exporter of oil. In 1999, the Colombian Petroleum Association estimated that oil sales generated some $3.2 billion for the Colombian central government, about one quarter of the government’s total income.
Rebel groups force payments of large sums of money from their governments and from oil companies by threatening to bomb oil pipelines. In 2001, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) put the pipeline out of operation for a record 266 days, costing the government almost $600 million in lost revenue, money that could have been spent on health care, education and other social programs.
In response, the government of Colombia has tried to protect the pipeline by levying a “war tax” of more than $1 per barrel, which helps to finance increased army defense for the pipeline and other oil facilities. Further, large oil companies like Occidental Petroleum turned to private military forces to protect their operations and facilities in Colombia. This is also true of ExxonMobil and Freeport McMoran in Indonesia, Talisman Energy in Sudan and Shell in Nigeria. In several cases, these private military forces have been accused of severe human rights violations against local populations.
What is interesting is that many poor, conflict-ridden countries that produce oil, consume little oil in comparison.
- In 2002, the United States of America was the number one oil consumer, accounting for about 25% of global oil consumption, whereas regions such as Angola, Nigeria and Sudan consumed such small amounts of oil they did not even rank on the list of oil consuming nations.
Want to Learn More?
1. GeoHive: Energy: Oil Consumption
This great at-a-glance chart shows you how much oil each country consumes.
2. Global Policy Forum: Oil and Natural Gas
This website provides lots of links to informative articles and important documents by region.
3. Global Witness: Oil Campaign
This website provides a campaign summary, press releases, press articles, and reports.
Toil for Oil
Many multinational oil companies operate in poor regions wrought with conflict that make more use of “oil money” than oil itself. Colombia ranks 28th in oil production but ranks 45th in oil consumption. Other regions, such as Angola, Nigeria, and Sudan rank amongst the oil producers, but do not even rank amongst the oil consumers. This is a chance for you to see the connections between the needs and practices of oil consumers and oil producers.
What Do I Need?
- Oil Documentary List
- Video (one from below)
- Videocassette recorder (VCR)
- Oil Article List
What Do I Do?
- As a group, read over the Oil Documentary List and choose a video that you wish to view (or more if you wish!).
- Use the contact information to get a copy of the video. If you know some teachers, talk to them; they might be able to help you!
- Watch the video!
- If you cannot obtain a video, read the articles from the Oil Article List.
- Post your thoughts in the Discussion Board on your homepage!
Oil Documentary List
1. Angola: The Great Angolan Oil Rush
Angola is quickly becoming one of the world’s most promising new oil sources. However, lawyer Rafael Marques claims: “for the majority of Angolans, oil essentially is a curse.” Thousands are forced out of their homes to make way for foreign investors. A leaked International Monetary Fund (IMF) report reveals that billions of dollars of revenue never even reach Angola. Instead, payments are channeled through offshore accounts and remain unaccounted for. However, with lucrative oil contracts at stake, no one is prepared to challenge the government.
ABC Australia (excerpt)
2. Colombia: Drying the Waters
This powerful documentary delves into the reality of Colombia’s brutal civil war, exploring the connections between the guerillas, paramilitary, and natural resources.
3. Nigeria: Oil Turmoil
This beautifully shot exposé takes you to the heart of the corporate/tribal struggle. Nigeria’s impoverished oil-producing communities are outraged. They see few returns from the myriad of oil wells that pollute their villages. We see forests destroyed by disastrous oil spills, whilst Shell provides evidence to suggest many spills are sabotage, in order to gain compensation. But time has run out for the beleaguered multi-national: Ijaw youths issued the ‘Kaiama declaration’, demanding Shell leave their land by December. Shell says it is ready to negotiate, but it may be too little, too late.
Journeyman Pictures (excerpt)
4. Sudan: Oil Wars
In Sudan, a vicious civil war over oil has cost thousands of Sudanese lives, Sudan’s oil is located largely in the neglected south, in areas the government must bring under control before exploration can begin. Instead of bringing development, oil is arming both sides in this terrible war.
Oil Article List
1. As Oil Riches Grow, Poor Village Cries Out. New York Times. December 22, 2002
ChevronTexaco's giant terminal in Nigeria is surrounded by tens of thousands of Africans who have grown poorer and angrier. The New York Times questions "how long these two worlds can coexist in such proximity without inflaming violence". The company, which operates in 186 countries, pumps much of its oil in places where people live on "less than $1 a day."
2. Ethnic Militants Threaten to Blow Up Oil Facilities. allAfrica.com. March, 2003
Nigeria’s military has attacked and fired indiscriminately on residents in three villages, killing 10 people and injuring 16. Niger Delta youths, angered by years of environmental damage and poverty in oil regions, threatened to blow up 11 oil pumping stations belonging to Royal/Dutch Shell, ChevronTexaco and TotalFinaElf.