Effect of oil spills on infant mortality in Nigeria

Oil spills can lead to irreversible environmental degradation and are a potential hazard to human health. We study how onshore oil spills affect neonatal and infant mortality by combining spatial data from the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor with Demographic and Health Surveys. To identify a causal effect, we compare siblings born to the same mother, conceived before and after a nearby oil spill. We find that nearby oil spills that occur before conception increase neonatal mortality by 38.3 deaths per 1,000 live births, which corresponds to an increase of around 100% on the sample mean. The effect is fairly uniform across girls and boys, socio-economic backgrounds, and locations. We show that this effect is not driven by events related to oil production or violent conflict. Rather, our results are consistent with medical and epidemiological evidence showing that exposure to hydrocarbons can pose risks to fetal development. We provide further evidence suggesting that the effects of oil spills on neonatal mortality persist for several years after the occurrence of an oil spill.