An analysis of official and unofficial petroleum products in the Niger Delta


Official fuel quality regulation must be enforced to stem widespread toxic air quality in Nigeria.

Research in the Niger Delta suggests that low quality, highly toxic fuels are imported into the country by international commodity traders, who are exploiting weak regulations. Unofficial fuels (from artisanal refineries using stolen crude) also fall well below international standards, but were often better quality than officially imported fuels.

The availability of low quality fuels appears to be widespread. It is likely that consumption is leading to high levels of pollution in an already heavily polluted environment, serious health impacts, and increased costs to consumers (due to the damaging effects on engines). Consumption of these fuels, and production of unofficial fuels, are likely to be contributing to localised environmental problems, such as the soot phenomenon in Port Harcourt, but data modelling suggests these sources are not the only cause.

Further research is urgently needed on fuel quality and air pollution across Nigeria, and governments, commodity institutions, and the oil industry must act together to regulate fuel content, emissions, and the use of carcinogenic and toxic compounds across the petroleum sector.


  • At a minimum, urgently ensure the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) and relevant partners enforce the proposed Nigerian fuel sulphur standards across official supply channels, and plan for further reductions to align with European Union (EU), or similar, standards.
  • Commission a joint investigation by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the SON to identify sulphur and benzene levels within official fuel supplies across Nigeria. Should unacceptable levels be found, hold the relevant international and/or national companies, importers, and institutions to account.
  • Commission a study into the sources of the remaining particulate emissions in Port Harcourt city, Rivers State, working with experts from Universities, the Commissioner for Environment, and international oil and gas companies, to gather and share data on air quality levels in different locations, and model factors that can help mitigate the soot.
  • Support the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) to work with private partners to develop renewable energy infrastructure across the Niger Delta to reduce demand for fossil fuels (either imported or produced at local artisanal refineries).
  • The Ministry of Petroleum Resources and Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) should consider engaging artisanal oil refiners in plans for domestic refining, given they are often producing fuels with better characteristics than official fuels supplied to Nigeria.

Posted: 20/05/2020

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