A worker discards boiling sludge, a byproduct of refining, in a pit in the jungle, one from a series for the article "The Water of My Land," September 2012.
Fires from hundreds of illicit fuel refineries burn every night throughout the Niger Delta. Rogue syndicates engaged in industrial-scale crude-oil theft, known locally as bunkering, sell the stolen oil in remote creeks and swamps, where makeshift refineries distill it to diesel, then ship it downriver to be sold on the black market. The delta’s refinery workers labor in environmentally toxic conditions, and are under constant threat from government authorities and local militias trying to assert control over the bunkering trade.
Shut out of the multibillion-dollar industry that extracts oil from their land—Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa and the fifth-largest supplier of oil to the United States—many residents of the delta resort to the clandestine fuel trade to survive.