Black-market fuel made from oil stolen from rudimentary Nigerian refineries is less polluting than the highly toxic diesel and gasoline that Europe exports to Nigeria, according to the international resource watchdog group Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN).
The report, made public by the newspaper 'The Guardian', explains that Shell, Exxon, Chevron and other large oil companies extract and export up to two million barrels per day of 'Bonny Light' oil, of high quality and low content of sulfur from the Niger River Delta. But very little of that oil is refined in the country, due to the lack of industrial conditions.
Instead, international retailers export about 900 tonnes of low-grade 'dirty' fuel to Nigeria, manufactured in Dutch, Belgian and other European European cities, which thus join small-scale artisanal refineries located in Nigeria and that produce large amounts of illegal fuel from oil stolen from the pipeline network that cross the Niger Delta.
The net result, says the SDN, is that Nigeria has one of the worst air pollution in the world, with dense clouds of soot hovering over cities. The extreme toxicity of fuel exported from Europe surprised researchers, who found that, on average, diesel sold in the country exceeded the European Union's pollution limits by 204 times.
Laboratory analysis also showed that fuel on the black market was highly polluting, but of a higher quality than imported diesel and gasoline. 'Indigenous' diesel is 'only' 152 times more polluting than European diesel.
More than half of the developing countries, mainly in Africa and Latin America, still use fuels with a high sulfur content, which are illegal in Western countries. In Nigeria, the practice is encouraged by an opaque fuel subsidy system, which keeps pump prices relatively low, but which fuels corruption.
According to industry sources that track legal and illegal movements of oil cargo and cited by the newspaper, about 80% of Nigeria's oil products come from the Netherlands and Belgium. The two countries have some of the largest refineries in Europe.
The SDN report confirms the claims made in a 2016 Public Eye investigation and a 2018 Dutch government report that European refineries and commodity brokers were mixing crude oil with benzene and other carcinogenic chemicals to create hundreds of fuels times above European pollution limits for the poorly regulated African market.
Nigeria, along with Togo, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Benin pledged in 2017 to halt imports of petroleum products of these grades as part of a UN environmental program initiative. But while Ghana has acted on this issue, Nigeria has argued that it needs more time to adapt.