VICE (2013) s05e24 Episode Script

Dirty Oil & Rebuilding Our Reefs

1 SHANE SMITH: This week on Vice: the battle raging in Nigeria over control of oil.
GIANNA TOBONI: This is just a stream of fuel going out into the waterways.
This entire town has been flooded.
SMITH: And then, scientists team up to save the world's reefs.
Can you describe what the world looks like without coral reefs? If we don't mitigate at all, coral reefs will not be the thing that we're worrying about.
It will be the survival of our species.
(THEME MUSIC PLAYING) YEUNG: Go, go, go! REFUGEE: We are not animals! Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer.
For over half a century, fossil fuel companies and the Nigerian government have collectively made billions of dollars, but the wealth has not trickled down to the majority of the population.
(SHOUTS) SMITH: This has led not only to an armed rebellion, but also local people stealing oil and sabotaging infrastructure to reclaim what they felt was rightfully theirs.
In season one of Vice, we traveled to the heart of the Niger Delta, the epicenter of their oil production.
So, right behind me are three illegal oil refineries.
Now at that time, an amnesty between the government and militants had been in place, bringing relative peace to the region.
But in 2016, the newly elected president, suspended the amnesty program prompting a resurgence of oil piracy and militancy.
So, we sent Gianna Toboni back to the Niger Delta to follow this ongoing story.
(MEN CHATTER) We're riding through the Niger Delta right now.
Nigeria's oil reserves are under us, so we're right at the center of Nigeria's oil production.
Shell, Exxon all these big companies have pipelines, and this is where oil theft is rampant.
Illegal oil refineries are buried deep in the creeks of the Niger Delta and are notoriously difficult to get to.
Local oil businessman Don Wizaro helped us secure access to one under the protection of a paramilitary group that provides security for the oil thieves.
This looks post-apocalyptic out here.
I mean, everything is burnt to the ground.
This entire town is black.
The smell of oil here is overwhelming.
Everything's rotting.
I mean, this entire town is covered in oil.
What are these guys doing? That's the refining in there? (WIZARO SPEAKS) (MEN CHATTERING) (WIZARO SPEAKS) So, this diesel is ready to be sold now.
(MACHINE RUMBLING) TOBONI: So, they're just starting to pump the crude from the ship through these hoses into what they're calling the crude oven.
That's where the refining process happens.
And then it goes through these pipes into the cooler they use water to cool it down and then through these pipes into the reservoir.
That's the diesel there.
Then they pump it again into those drums, and that's where it's exported from.
Just a couple of years ago, operations like these were on the decline, in part due to an amnesty program where the Nigerian government paid militants to stop refining and selling the oil beneath their land.
But in 2016, the new government reeled back those subsidies, so now, the black market is once again thriving.
Why do you do this work? TOBONI: Has the military ever come through here? TOBONI: As night fell, they allowed us to watch the most crucial and dangerous part of the process.
Oh wow.
They just started the fire.
Look at this.
Holy shit.
Huge plumes of smoke.
I mean, this fire is huge, and all these guys are here, making sure they contain it, 'cause we're surrounded by oil.
This is the most combustible environment you could be in.
What are they pouring in there? (WIZARO SPEAKING) So hot.
I mean, this fire is relatively far away, and the heat is just the heat is really strong.
Holy shit! Look at this thing.
It's massive.
So, they do this every night, huh? Yeah.
TOBONI: While Nigeria sits atop one of the largest oil reserves in the world, the majority of the Nigerian people have seen little benefit from this multi-billion dollar industry.
The result has been rampant oil theft and sabotage of infrastructure, which has transnational oil and gas consultants, like Ifeanyi Izeze, concerned about the effects on global oil markets.
What is Nigeria's role in oil production globally? What was the amnesty program? (IZEZE SPEAKS) (SHOUTING) Why have people turned to violence? (GUNFIRE) TOBONI: Militant activity reduced Nigeria's oil output last year to its lowest level in 22 years.
And as we saw in a local village, the illegal oil market is once again central to their livelihood.
We have the whole village coming with us.
(WIZARO SPEAKING) If you could get a job, would you be doing this? TOBONI: Just two days later, the Nigerian military raided the very same village.
So, they're coming to bust this dump site.
Oh look.
They're just destroying everything.
TOBONI: Oh my God.
You can smell it.
Look at this.
(MEN SHOUTING) TOBONI: So, tell us what's happening here.
You can tell that it was refined out in the bush? (HARUNA SPEAKS) TOBONI: So, how often are you coming across warehouses or markets that are selling illegal fuel? TOBONI: This can't be good for the environment.
(HARUNA SPEAKING) TOBONI: And why is that? TOBONI: Oh my God.
Oh my God.
Just slashing all these bags up.
I mean, look at this, though.
This is just a stream of fuel going out into the waterways.
This entire town has been flooded.
After years of military raids, illegal oil operations, and pipeline spills, the effect on the local environment here is catastrophic, contaminating what was a main source of fishing, agriculture, and drinking water.
So, you just threw your net in to catch fish, and it's covered in oil now? (MAN SPEAKING) TOBONI: This isn't just a result of the war between the militants and the government.
In 2011, a landmark UN report showed widespread contamination of the Niger Delta by Shell and other oil companies.
TOBONI: I noticed that it's black all around us.
What has been the effect on this community? TOBONI: In 2015, after being sued by a local community affected by oil spills, Shell agreed to a payout of $84 million and maintains that it's committed to the cleanup of oil in the Niger Delta.
There have been several other lawsuits against Shell here, a number of which are still pending.
We went on an aerial patrol with Shell's pipeline surveillance team, who believe that it's the oil thieves and militants who are largely responsible for this widespread pollution.
(MAN SPEAKING OVER HEADSET) TOBONI: What is this right here? Oh wow.
Look at that.
That's a big one.
Oh my God! They're everywhere.
Oh my God! Another one.
So, these bush refineries were just set on fire by the military.
You can see two areas close by that are burning.
The plumes of smoke are black and massive, going into the sky.
TOBONI: As we found out for ourselves, operations to destroy illegal refineries are routine for the Nigerian military.
(GUN FIRES) TOBONI: The civil defense forces just went in.
It looks like they're firing at the militants in there.
So, they just arrested somebody.
He was running an oil refinery right over here.
(MEN CHATTERING) There are several ovens here.
Oh my God.
Look at this.
It goes all the way down there.
I mean, it's like, probably, half a mile of refineries.
(HARUNA SPEAKING) So you'll destroy these now? TOBONI: This entire camp is being lit on fire.
You can see the smoke in the sky already.
TOBONI: These guys are all about to fire (MAN SPEAKS) Okay.
(GUNFIRE) TOBONI: As the government continues their assault on illegal refineries and barges carrying stolen oil, they're often met with retaliation from local militias.
and one of the most notorious militias here.
is the Niger Delta Avengers They attack pipelines and infrastructure, significantly affecting both the environment and the economy.
It's been incredibly hard getting any militants from the NDA to talk to us, but we've finally tracked a few down who have agreed to talk to us as long as we conceal their identities.
Why are you doing this? What do you want to accomplish? What kinds of missions does the NDA carry out? TOBONI: These attacks forced the government to resume amnesty payouts to the militants, and the government also recently announced a move toward legalizing these illicit refineries.
(CROWD SHOUTING) TOBONI: Despite that, the attacks and protests continue as locals demand more jobs and development, without which there may be no end in sight for the devastating environmental damage and the escalating cycle of violence in the Niger Delta.
Coral reefs are one of the Earth's most precious natural resources.
They harbor over a million species and provide food for at least 500 million people around the world.
But corals are dying at an alarming rate, primarily due to rising sea temperatures.
Most experts believe that we're set to lose 90 percent of the world's reefs by 2050.
Ben Anderson traveled to Palau, Hawaii, and Curacao to see how a few small groups of scientists may have found a solution to this increasingly serious environmental crisis.
ANDERSON: Their habitats still look beautiful, but corals are dying at a staggering rate.
Warming waters, pollution, and overfishing have led to the loss of 50 percent of the world's corals in the last 30 years.
If this is allowed to continue, its impact on the planet will be devastating.
Reef ecologist Eric Hochberg and his team want to prove exactly why this is happening.
They have been photographing major reefs around the world and are finishing their project here in Palau.
These underwater tests are conducted to verify information gathered by a state-of-the-art NASA sensor attached to the team's plane.
Is your hope that once this is done, you can then understand what's damaging each reef in each different part of the world? Or is it also to understand what could prevent further loss? Yes and yes.
So, we're gonna visit hundreds of reefs with the airplane.
I'm gonna look for patterns.
This is an exploratory science.
First time we're getting this data set, so we don't know what we'll find.
ANDERSON: When the project is finished, they will have mapped more of the world's coral reefs than ever before.
This is the leading-edge sensor for ocean remote sensing in the world.
This is PRISM.
We have it here.
We're using it.
ANDERSON: So far, the amount of reef that's been studied this comprehensively is point-zero-one percent of the world's.
HOCHBERG: That's what I would say.
So, we're gonna get to about two percent.
The only way to do it is with this technology.
ANDERSON: I'm amazed this hasn't been done before.
When you think of something so valuable and so It's been done at Mars, and it's been done at the Moon.
We just haven't done it here on Earth.
HOCHBERG: This is the most extensive uniform reef survey that has been conducted.
ANDERSON: What's already known is that corals are being stressed by extreme changes to their environment.
When this happens, they lose their algae and turn white in a phenomenon known as bleaching.
There have been three worldwide bleaching events in the last 20 years.
The most devastating began in 2014, resulting in the loss of 4,600 square miles of coral.
The Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest living structure, lost 30 percent of its coral, threatening the many species that rely on it for survival.
Richard Vevers is a former ad exec who believes he can help by raising awareness.
He launched a project called 50 Reefs, which will identify and help document the 50 most protectable reefs around the world.
Working with Google, Richard has designed a 360-degree virtual reality camera that can capture remarkably detailed footage.
VEVERS: The camera we developed was originally an idea of "Well, let's reveal the underwater world.
" The scientists heard about the camera and saw that this was a way of potentially revolutionizing the study of coral reefs.
ANDERSON: Richard's footage is detailed enough for scientific study, and his team has designed an algorithm that automatically analyzes the images, which means work that would've taken years can now be completed in hours.
And is your footage available to the scientific community? It is literally Google Street View underwater, so anybody in the world can go to any of the locations that we've been to.
The idea is these 50 reefs become a catalyst for action.
ANDERSON: The 50 Reefs team also take their underwater imagery and, with VR headsets, show local communities what they have to lose.
VEVERS: A lot of these local communities don't get underwater.
And so, with this technology, we can come into villages and show people exactly what's under there.
KIDS: Wow! (KIDS LAUGHING) ANDERSON: And is the idea to get them to love what they see first and then be more interested in protecting it? VEVERS: Yes.
I mean, you can have that one moment when you're growing up, when you see something new for the first time, and it sticks with you for the rest of your life.
You can't protect an environment like this without a hundred percent local support.
ANDERSON: Coral reefs are the foundation of the world's underwater ecosystems.
If they die, so will the many species that depend on them, and the entire food chain, up to the fish that we consume, could be lost.
Does it surprise you that this isn't front-page news, that this isn't more of an urgent issue to most of the public? People still seem sort of obsessed with conservation of a single species.
Yet we've got a million species under a more rapid threat that's happening right now.
And I think most conservation needs a bit of a rethink.
ANDERSON: One of the world's leading marine biologists is doing just that, pioneering research which could help coral survive.
You know, one thing that we're exploring is that corals might be more entrepreneurial in terms of their partners very early in their life history.
We try to challenge them with new types and see if they're "Oh yeah, I'll give this one a try.
" Put the right sperm and egg together and create the - the super coral.
- Yeah.
ANDERSON: She calls this process "assisted evolution.
" Once Ruth has identified the strongest species in the lab and helped them breed, the samples are placed amongst reefs that have already been badly damaged.
GATES: These corals were selected, because one coral of the same species, sitting side-by-side, one of them was healthy and one of them was white bleached.
And our question is, "Why?" So, these are the ones that are really the survivors.
(GATES SPEAKING) GATES: You know, I always think of the planet as a jigsaw puzzle, and there are all these pieces that must fit together to create the picture that is our planet.
And when you start pulling pieces out, like the coral reef or the polar ice sheet, and that lack of connection and understanding of the way the planet's system is being affected will ultimately wipe us out as a species.
Species go extinct when they can no longer be supported by the place where they live.
And that's what we're doing to ourselves.
ANDERSON: Back in Ruth's lab, she uses a multi-million dollar microscope which shows in stunning detail exactly how corals react to increasing stresses.
That's the first time I've seen them where you can really see that they're living things.
You're almost communicating with the corals, 'cause you can push it until you see levels of stress - That's right.
- and then pull it back in again.
They tell you exactly what they feel.
And that's you know, that's kind of crazy, isn't it? You're looking at a living organism.
A reef would cross its strongest members, naturally, over a 30- to 50-year period.
We don't have 30 to 50 years.
ANDERSON: These images help Ruth experiment with ways to build stronger species.
You know, originally this project was called the Super Coral Project.
Okay, I'm going out on the reef, I'm finding my best coral performers.
I bring it into the lab, I train it on an environmental treadmill to improve its capacity to withstand these temperatures.
We then do what human athletes often do, which is to meet somebody in the gym of the opposite sex - and have extremely gifted offspring.
- (LAUGHTER) And we do exactly the same with our corals.
GATES: There is an urgent, urgent problem that needs to be met with a very, very creative solution.
And I'll use an example, like, the closure of the ozone hole.
That was a radical change in planetary behavior that enabled that to occur and we all did it.
ANDERSON: Ruth's work is looking like a viable solution, if it can be applied to scale.
In Curacao, we met with a team of scientists called SECORE who are trying to solve the problem of scalability.
They're here to gather the larvae of a brain coral, their first step in a plan to repopulate reefs worldwide.
- (LAUGHS) - Yeah.
(MAN SPEAKS) ANDERSON: Once in the water, they rely on the sea life to point them in the right direction.
(PETERSEN SPEAKS) ANDERSON: Once the butterfly fish have identified the right corals, Dirk and his team cover them in tents to collect the sperm and eggs which are about to be released.
After they've collected enough samples, they need to get them back to the lab for fertilization.
In nature, the coral's reproductive success rate is just point-two percent.
ANDERSON: It's a huge step in solving the problem of scalability.
So, how close are you to getting the potentially hundreds of thousands of coral that are there to be hundreds of thousands of coral in the ocean? Yeah.
(CHUCKLES) ANDERSON: The next problem is how to spread these hundreds of thousands of fertilized eggs across a wide area.
These easily made cement tetrapods are covered with coral larvae.
The tetrapods can then be easily distributed wherever they are needed, and the coral can grow.
Once you've figured it out and once you know you can do it to scale, all you have to do is get enough of these somewhere that you can essentially push them into the areas where they need to be.
PETERSEN: That's the idea, yeah.
That's it.
That's it.
ANDERSON: It's another huge step in finding a solution that can be applied on a worldwide scale.
- So, you have a blueprint.
- Yes.
What would you actually need to put that in place? - Resources.
We need money.
- So, how much? A collective hundred-million-dollar project that would create the networks, that would enable the science to be convened with practitioners quickly.
ANDERSON: If the scale and cause of the corals' destruction can be perfectly understood, if its most resilient species can be selected or bred, and if those species can then be spread wherever they are needed on a massive scale, these scientists may have solved one of the most significant environmental problems of our age.
Can you describe what the world looks like - without coral reefs? - A world without reefs is a world where there are places without food, places where there's nowhere to live.
They are critically important to coastal security and economies.
The rates of change in our environment are far outpacing the intrinsic capacity of coral reefs to survive.
If we don't mitigate at all, coral reefs will not be the thing that we're worrying about.
It will be the survival of our species.
This sounds like the perfect project crying out for someone to come in and say, "Okay, I'm gonna coordinate a global effort" - to do exactly what you're saying.
- Absolutely.
How do we make these tools make a difference on-site in many places? We have to be absolutely functional in 10 years.
We have to stop planning, and we need to start doing.