The Race to Share in Nigeria's Oil Bounty

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The Energy Department says the United States depends on Africa for 18 percent of its petroleum imports. That percentage is growing rapidly. The biggest African producer is Nigeria.

Joe Kulu is the manager of a flow station for Royal Dutch Shell. Credit: Jim Wallace, NPR.

Joe Kulu is the manager of a flow station for Royal Dutch Shell. He helps move the oil from pumps across the delta to tank farms that hold crude oil before it is shipped to a refinery. Jim Wallace, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jim Wallace, NPR

For Nigerians, it's a promising moment. It's also perilous. The fight over who benefits from oil money is going on at all levels of Nigerian society.

Vast oil and gas reserves lie beneath the coastal swamps of the Niger River Delta. It's a desperately poor region with few good roads. And it is less peaceful than it looks.

Nigeria by the Numbers

All figures are 2004 estimates.

Proven Oil Reserves: 34 Billion Barrels (World = 1.025 Trillion)

Proven Natural Gas Reserves: 4 Trillion Cubic Meters (World = 161.2 Trillion)

Gross Domestic Product - Per Person: $1,000

Source: CIA World Factbook

Oil companies face hostility from gangsters, ethnic militias and even ordinary locals.

International energy companies point out that they've spent millions on Nigerian schools and hospitals. They've also paid billions of dollars in taxes. But that money has a way of disappearing in a country with a reputation for corruption.

Even so, it's good business to stay there as companies scramble across the globe to bolster their proven oil reserves.



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