At an illicit refinery deep in the creeks of the Niger Delta, a worker discards boiling sludge, a byproduct of refining, in a pit in the jungle.
According to Agence France-Presse, the Nigerian government loses an estimated $7 billion to oil theft yearly—but the impact on communities and the environment of this illegal trade is harder to quantify. Photographer James said this to Harper's Magazine about the process of refining siphoned oil:
“The refining process itself is extremely risky. It requires boiling crude oil at high temperatures, then channeling the vapors into a cooling chamber filled with water. The technology is very rudimentary. For generations, men in the Niger Delta used this same process to distill palm sap into a potent gin known locally as Ogogoro. Sometimes wood fires...are used to boil crude. But more often, workers fill open pits with crude oil and light them on fire. The fumes and waste produced are toxic and flammable. Whole camps can, and often do, explode. You can tell where diesel cooking is going on because people are burned all over their bodies.”