Oil boom in Angola: In a poor land, an exploration of the trickle-down effect
Offshore oil rig Angola's oil production, largely offshore, has quadrupled since 1980. Production is soon expected to reach one million barrels a day, about half of which will be exported to the U.S.


The research game plan, exploring ever-deeper waters, talking to the big fish and the little fish

Oil production in Angola is largely based offshore (see map) and has been progressively moving from shallower waters to deep-water production and now to ultra-deep-water production. Dr. Sylvia Earle, a renowned marine biologist, once said that we know more about space than we do the depths of the ocean. Determining the impact of oil production on these unknown depths is nearly impossible, so taking the proper precautions to mitigate any negative impacts is imperative.

The government has recently enacted many strict regulations to ensure that the rich fisheries and marine life attributed to the Benguela current running northward along the Angolan coast are not negatively affected. For example, when the Ministry of Fisheries determined that seismic operations related to oil exploration activities could interfere with sea turtle migrations, the ministry prohibited seismic activities during the migration period. Operating companies have been ordered to phase out over the next few years the practice of flaring associated with natural gas, a significant form of environmental pollution. The government has also assessed oil companies large penalties for spills or leaks.

Apart from studying the techniques of production and the regulations imposed, discovering what local people know is vital in assessing the oil industry's impact. Do the people feel that their resources are affected? Are their livelihoods affected? What have the developments been over time? And what are the social impacts of production? How do local people see the developments in offshore oil production? Are they benefiting from corporate social responsibility projects or a share of the production profits?

The first half of my research plan involves speaking with persons in Luanda: international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government officials from the Ministry of Petroleum, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Fisheries, representatives of the national oil company (SONANGOL) and affiliates of the four main oil multinational companies operating in Angola: BP-Amoco, TotalFinaElf, ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil. I will ask members of these groups questions ranging from the issue of environmental regulations to the topic of corporate social responsibility projects.

During the second half of my research project, I will travel to the oil producing areas of Soyo and Cabinda. Here, I hope to make contact with locals through community groups, municipal organizations and fishing associations suggested by the NGOs based in Luanda. I am told that the climate of suspicion is even greater in the provincial areas than in Luanda. Establishing relationships of trust and openness here, onshore of the oil-producing areas, will be a must for me.

— Kristin