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Nigeria's Illegal Oil Refineries

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Reuters photographer Akintunde Akinleye recently gained rare access to an illegal oil refinery near the river Nun in Nigeria's oil state of Bayelsa. There, he was able to document the secret and dangerous practice of oil bunkering, where locals hack into oil pipelines, steal the crude oil, and refine or sell it abroad. For over 50 years now, crude oil and natural gas have been extracted from the Niger Delta by large corporations, which have had their share of environmental disasters. The ongoing damage from the tapped pipes and these makeshift refineries continue to take a terrible toll on the environment and the local population. See also "Nigeria: The Cost of Oil" from 2011. [30 photos]

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Smoke rises as an illegal oil refinery burns after a military chase in a winding creek near river Nun in Nigeria's oil state of Bayelsa, on December 6, 2012. Thousands of people in Nigeria engage in a practice known locally as "oil bunkering" - hacking into pipelines to steal crude then refining it or selling it abroad. The practice, which leaves oil spewing from pipelines for miles around, managed to lift around a fifth of Nigeria's two million barrel a day production last year according to the finance ministry. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye)
Smoke rises as an illegal oil refinery burns after a military chase in a winding creek near river Nun in Nigeria's oil state of Bayelsa, on December 6, 2012. Thousands of people in Nigeria engage in a practice known locally as "oil bunkering" - hacking into pipelines to steal crude then refining it or selling it abroad. The practice, which leaves oil spewing from pipelines for miles around, managed to lift around a fifth of Nigeria's two million barrel a day production last year according to the finance ministry. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye)
A man paddles a canoe through a swamp after an oil pipeline explosion caused by people who tried to steal fuel at Arepo village, just outside Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, on January 13, 2013. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A warning sign belonging to the company Royal Dutch Shell is seen along the Nembe creek in Bayelsa State, Nigeria, on December 2, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
Ebiowei, 48, carries an empty oil container on his head to a place where it would be filled with refined fuel at an illegal refinery site near river Nun in Bayelsa State, on November 27, 2012. Locals in the industry say workers can earn $50 to $60 a day. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
An oil pipeline belonging to oil company Agip spews oil after a leak in the Kalaba community in Bayelsa State, on November 26, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
Men work at an illegal oil refinery site near river Nun in Bayelsa State, on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A man working at an illegal oil refinery site pours oil under a locally made burner to keep the fire going, near river Nun in Bayelsa State, on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A man collects polluted water at an illegal oil refinery site near river Nun in Bayelsa State, on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A man named Godswill works at an illegal oil refinery site, where steam rises from pipes carrying refined oil from a burner into broken containers, in Bayelsa State, on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A worker pours crude oil into a locally made burner using a funnel at an illegal oil refinery in Bayelsa State, on November 25, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A man stands, reflected in oil waste at an illegal oil refinery in Bayelsa State, on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A billboard campaigning against crude oil theft along a road in Yenagoa, the capital city of Bayelsa State, Nigeria, on November 28, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
Security officials move through a swamp as smoke rises after an oil pipeline explosion caused by people who tried to steal fuel at Arepo village, just outside Lagos, on January 13, 2013. At least three people were seen dead, according to a Reuters witness. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A burnt canoe hull rests in a polluted creek after an oil pipeline explosion caused by people who tried to steal fuel at Arepo village, just outside Lagos, on January 13, 2013. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A body lies in a polluted, burned swamp after an oil pipeline explosion caused by people who tried to steal fuel at Arepo village, Nigeria, on January 13, 2013. At least three people were seen dead, according to a Reuters witness. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
An oil slick clots the bottom of mangroves in Bodo creek in Ogoniland, near Nigeria's oil hub city of Port Harcourt, on December 4, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
An oil slick is seen as a speedboat churns up the water of Bodo creek next to polluted mangroves, in Ogoniland near Port Harcourt, on December 4, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
Smoke rises as an illegal oil refinery is burned after a military chase in a creek near river Nun in Bayelsa State, on December 6, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A locally made boat containing crude oil is manned through a creek near river Nun in Bayelsa State, Nigeria, on December 6, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A man and his son walk through polluted farmland in the Kalaba community in Bayelsa State, on November 26, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
Flames flare from a locally made burner as a refiner walks through an illegal oil refinery site near river Nun in Bayelsa State, on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A man named Godswill collects crude oil from a small storage pit filled with oil, which is waiting to be refined at an illegal refinery site near the river Nun in Nigeria's oil state of Bayelsa, on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
Ebiowei, 48, carries refined oil in buckets near the river Nun in Bayelsa State, on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
Smoke rises from a locally made burner in an illegal oil refinery site in Bayelsa State, on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A crude oil refinery worker stands in front of a locally made burner in an illegal oil refinery site near the river Nun, on November 27, 2012. The worker said that he had been doing the job for two years and earned the equivalent of around $60 a day. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
Ebiowei, 48, pours water to reduce the intensity of the fire in a burner at an illegal oil refinery site, on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
An oil slick flows near abandoned drums at an illegal oil refinery site after the military chased oil thieves near the river Nun in Bayelsa State, on November 25, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
Steam is emitted from pipes as a man describes a process of refining crude oil at an illegal refinery in Nigeria, on November 27, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A passenger speedboat churns up the water, while in the background an illegal oil refinery is left burning after a military chase had occurred earlier, on December 6, 2012. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #
A young woman named Akpomene, coated in oil stains as she sits in a canoe near river Nun in Bayelsa State, Nigeria, on November 27, 2012. Akpomene fishes in the creek and sells the fish to help her family. She washes after fishing but still has sticky rashes on her body. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye) #

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