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Covering the Extractive Industries

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Extracting natural resources – oil and gas, coal, low-value minerals such as sand, and high-value minerals such as gold – has benefits and costs.

Mineral extraction plays a dominant role in many economies and in the lives of billions of people.

Minerals needed for the green energy transition, such as cobalt, nickel, and lithium, are in high demand, bringing new attention to associated environmental, social, and governance risks of mining them.

For journalists, coverage of these “extractive industries” presents opportunities centered in three broad areas:

  • Financial – The revenues from natural resource extraction are important to national economies and government revenue. The interdependency of governments and corporations has been a breeding group for corruption.
  • Environmental – Extraction may result in negative costs to the environment, both locally, for example in water pollution, and internationally, as a contributor to biodiversity loss and global heating.
  • Social and Human Rights – Miners and those in related processing industries often are poorly paid and work in dangerous conditions.

In this guide, GIJN has collected resources to help investigate extractive industries.

Bear in mind that looking at extractive industries likely will require the use of many tools not specific to extractive industries, such as digging into corporate and government records, finding links between business and government officials, and understanding a variety of environmental impacts. And, particularly in this area, there may be security risks.

Most stories will require specific research on government regulatory regimes.

Guides for Journalists

Covering Extractives, created by the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) in 2020, a nonprofit headquartered in the United States. Specifically aimed at reporters, it starts by explaining the process from exploration to extraction, what should happen to the money at various points along the way, and what to look for when prospecting a story. Focusing on mining concessions granted by governments, the report includes a section on “12 red flags showing main corruption risks in the licensing process.” The red flag list is also discussed in more detail in a 2017 National Oil Company Database report.

Diagnosing Corruption in the Extractive Sector: A Tool for Research and Action, isn’t designed specifically for journalists, but contains relevant information.

Reporting Mining: A Journalist’s Handbook, produced by the African Centre for Media Excellence in 2018. Stocked with background and lists of questions to ask. (Requires subscription, free for a month, to download.)Thompson Reuters Oil and Gas Reporting Handbook: A comprehensive guide from 2015 that explains some of the more complicated aspects of the oil and gas industry.

International Databases

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI): The EITI website presents data on the extractive sector as reported by its 56 implementing countries. In accordance with the EITI Standard, EITI reporting covers the extractive industry value chain: from the allocation of rights and ownership of extractive companies, to production and export statistics, to the collection and allocation of extractive revenues, and efforts to mitigate social and environmental impacts. Detailed country-level reports can be accessed here, where country “scorecards” also can be found. Also see reports on EITI implementing companies. Users can learn more about the EITI’s data offerings and download country data in bulk via the EITI’s data page.

The National Oil Company Database (NRGI): A searchable database with information on the production, revenues, and performance of 71 national oil companies. It is produced by the Natural Resources Governance Institute.

Resource Projects: Another NRGI database, with information on payments made by companies for extracting oil, gas, and mining resources around the world.

ResourceContracts: An NRGI portal that houses over a thousand mining and oil contracts. See a February 2024 blog post on the collection and the secrecy that sometimes surrounds partnership agreements between governments and corporations.

Statista: Mining data from a private company.

International Energy Agency Energy Statistics Data Browser: IEA statistics with charts and tables on 16 energy topics for over 170 countries and regions.

Critical Minerals Policy Tracker: Intended as a tool to help governments explore new critical mineral policies, this IEA resource describes policies related to critical minerals in 35 countries.

Contract transparency digital tracker: A ranking of countries based on EITI data, from the NGO Publish What You Pay.

Natural Resource Rents: World Bank staff estimates based on sources and methods described in the Changing Wealth of Nations report.

The Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy: Analyses data on world energy markets.

US Energy Information Administration: International energy data and links to a variety of other sources.

African Databases

Oxpeckers Mine Alert: Track mining applications and licenses across Africa. The Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Journalism also conducts investigations on the extractive industry. See video tutorial on how to use the database.

Open Data Africa: Search for numerous databases on mining activity.

Ownership Resources

Open Corporates: “The open database of the corporate world,” containing information on over 60 million companies worldwide.

Open Ownership: A map shows which countries have launched live central registers. The country entries sometimes include links to national databases. The Open Ownership Register includes national beneficial ownership data, updated monthly, from Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Slovakia. The Register is maintained by Open Ownership, an NGO advocating for improved disclosure about corporate ownership. Also, see a descriptive guide on how to use Open Ownership.

For more information see the GIJN guide Researching Corporations and Their Owners.

Other Guides and Reports

There is a massive amount published about extractive industries. This collection is best viewed as a sampling to prompt further online research. 

Mission Critical: This 2022 report by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative provides an overview of global value chains of selected transition minerals and identifies four risk areas in the value chains of transition minerals, providing recommendations on how to mitigate risks through policy actions, advocacy, analysis, and partnerships.

Promoting Backward Linkages and Transparency: A Civil Society Guide to the Mining Local Procurement Reporting Mechanism: A 2021 guide with a focus on Africa by Engineers Without Borders Canada, an NGO “that pushes and helps the global mining sector maximize local procurement of goods and services, and to make it more transparent.”

The environmental and social liabilities of the extractive sector: This is one of a series of educational articles taken from Timothy Killeen’s book A Perfect Storm in the Amazon, which was published in 2024 by Mongabay.

Why do extractives matter?” is the title of a web page leading to related resources created by the UN Environment Programme.

Transforming Extractive Industries for Sustainable Development: This 2020 United Nations report says, “Extractive industries have immense potential to drive growth, support sustainable development, and reduce poverty in developing countries. Yet, the actual contribution of extractive industries to sustainable development in countries rich in raw materials has often been mired by financial, economic, governance, social and environmental concerns, leading to the so-called resource curse or paradox of plenty.”

10 Human Rights Priorities for the Extractives Sector: An issue brief identifies “the 10 most relevant, urgent, and probable human rights impacts for businesses operating in the extractives sector,” from the Business for Social Responsibility, a group with company members.

Finding the Missing Millions: A 2018 handbook by the NGO Global Witness for using extractive companies’ revenue disclosures to hold governments and industry to account.

Extractive Industries Overview: The home page on World Bank efforts concerning extractive industries.

A Guide to Good Governance in Extractive Industries: A World Bank 2018 “sourcebook for those seeking to better understand the myriad options around oil, gas, and mining development.” Also see one of the few gender-related reports, Gender Dimensions of the Extractive Industries : Mining for Equity.

Columbia Center for Sustainable Development: Resources and analysis aimed to help stakeholders —including governments of mineral-rich economies, mining companies, investors, and civil society leaders.

Mineral Resource Governance in the 21st Century: Gearing Extractive Industries Towards Sustainable Development: The report maps more than 80 existing international governance frameworks and initiatives for the extractive sector and calls for a new framework. Prepared in 2020 for the International Resource Panel of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Pulitzer Center: Articles on extractive industries and the environment.

Earth Journalism Network: Articles on extractive industries and the environment.

Academic Studies

Again, only an indicative sampling of recent literature. For more academic papers check search sites such as JSOT, Google Scholar, ScienceDirect, Directory of Open Access Journals, IEEE Explorer.

The extractive industry and human rights in Africa: Lessons from the past and future directions: A 2022 review of relevant literature to examine the nature and drivers of human rights abuses within the extractive industry in Africa.

Global impacts of extractive and industrial development projects on Indigenous Peoples’ lifeways, lands, and rights: An empirical analysis published in 2023.

Linking large extractive industries to sustainable development of rural communities at mining sites in Africa: Challenges and pathways: A 2023 look at whether mining supports community development.

Conflict management in the extractive industries: A comparison of four mining projects in Latin America: An examination of conflict management approaches used by managers of large mining operations in Latin America.

Extractive industries and the environment: Production, pollution, and protest in global history: A 2021 article that is part of a special issue on a special issue, “Extractive industries and the Environment.”

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