Resource April 1, 2011

Lesson Plan: Extractive Industries

Media file: picforextinduslesson_9557_10293.jpg
American money changes hands in the sale of Coltan, from Congo's Bloody Coltan by Mvemba Dizolele, DRC, 2006


On April 22, Americans will observe the 41st annual Earth Day. Each year, Earth Day offers students, teachers, and communities the opportunity to reflect on their part in the global environmental movement. The Earth Day Network broadly defines "environment" to include any issues related to health (e.g.., water and sanitation), communities (e.g., green buildings, recycling), and the environment (e.g., climate change), and encourages citizens to promote green policies within their homes, schools, and communities both here in the United States and internationally.

For the past year, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has been covering environmental issues related to extractive industries, closely examining the impact these industries have on communities living in resource-rich areas. Through this lesson, students are able to explore the impact oil extraction, logging, and mining have on communities across the globe. Students will also be able to reflect on the policies, both domestically and internationally, governing the industry and determine if they are sufficiently "green."

Specific Subject-Area Connections


  • Ecosystems
  • Effect of human activities on the Earth
  • Environmental public policy
  • Renewable and non-renewable resources
  • The role of water in natural and human-made environments

Social Studies

  • The impact of global trade on regional civilizations
  • The political and social conditions of developing nations

Student Preparation

Before beginning the lesson, encourage students to discuss and define the term "extractive industry."

  • What is an extractive industry?
  • What are examples of these industries both in the United States and across the globe?
    • International: oil from the Middle East, logging in Canada, coal mining in Colombia, etc.
    • Domestic: off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, logging in Alaska, coal mining in West Virginia, etc.
  • What are basic benefits of these industries? (Many make our lives easier, economic benefit for companies working in the field, economic benefit for countries/communities selling the resource, etc.)
  • What challenges do these industries present? (Pollution, safety risk to workers, degradation of land, etc.)

Begin a class list outlining the pros and cons of resource extraction.


Note: Depending on student interest and class time available, this lesson can be taught in one to three class sessions. You may choose to use one class period and address the industry that is most relevant to your curriculum or geographic area, or of most interest to your students, or use three class periods and address each industry (oil, mining, logging).

The videos, slideshows, and articles included in this lesson plan offer students the opportunity to explore the impact of extractive industries on the Earth's surface, and examine how these industries affect local populations.

Have students read the articles, and view the videos and slideshows associated with each reporting project. As they explore the project, you may choose to have them consider some of the questions included in each section. Additionally, encourage students to address these questions:

  • Which country(ies) does this reporting address?
  • Has the extractive industry profiled resulted in an environmental crisis? If so, who do you believe is responsible for the crisis? Is there any way to resolve this crisis?
  • Who has benefited from the resource extraction? (Who is getting rich from the sales? Who is purchasing the resource?)
  • Which groups have participated in the extraction process?
  • List two pros (benefits to this extractive industry) and two cons (detriments caused by this industry)

After students have explored one of the industries, ask them to share their ideas regarding the pros and cons of the industry they were studying. Generate a class list of these positives and negatives. (Some examples are provided at the end of this section.)

Ask students to review these pros and cons while looking at a world map. As they read through the pros, have them look at a world map and, using small map dot stickers, place a green dot on the countries seeing the benefit of the industry and a red dot on the countries suffering from the cons. For example, with Coltan mining in Congo, the DRC could receive green stickers for job creation and some national economic benefit; but red dots for the use of child labor, destruction of agricultural spaces, danger to miners, extraction of a finite resource. Additionally, the U.S., Canada, Japan, and other industrialized nations could receive green dots because they benefit, technologically, from the extraction and sale of Coltan.

Eventually, students should be able to see how industrialized nations are reaping the benefits of global extractive industries, and other than reliance on a finite resource, do not face many challenges in the process. As students begin to come to this conclusion, encourage them to consider the following questions:

  • What role should nations seeking to import resources from other countries play in regulating the environmental, social, and/or economic impact of these industries? Why?
  • In a case such as Congo, do countries importing resources have an obligation to intervene in conflicts or exploitation? Why or why not?
  • Do you feel the physical distance between your home country and the nations providing these resources makes you more or less concerned about the means by which these resources are extracted? How does a physical distance become an ideological distance?

Sample Pro/Con List



  • The industries generate money for the companies involved in their extraction and distribution
  • The industries create jobs for local populations
  • Trade networks (roads, shipping, etc.) develop around the areas of industry
  • The industries allow for electricity, schools, and may provide clean water for local populations
  • The resources help sustain communities
  • The US is heavily reliant on many resources extracted
  • Many of these countries use children as a cheap, readily-available labor force
  • Pollution from machines used in extraction
  • The industry destroys agricultural space, often ruining the livelihood of local populations.
  • Water sources can be damaged by pipelines or extraction processes.
  • Many resources are finite, there is no long-term plan for workers and communities when they run out.
  • Injury/Sickness risk for workers

Specific to Oil

  • Oil and petroleum allow sustain the US transportation network.
  • The US need for oil has led to humanitarian work in crisis areas (Middle East, South Sudan)

Specific to Oil

  • Oil spills are expensive and cause a lot of damage to wildlife
  • Oil/Fossil Fuels are nonrenewable, we cannot count on them forever

Specific to Logging

  • Biofuels are better for the environment
  • Trees are a renewable resource

Specific to Logging

  • As the land is stripped of trees, landslides are more common, and silt washes into clean drinking water supplies
  • Logging is taking place in rainforests destroying indigenous populations, plants, and animals

Specific to Mining

  • Coltan keeps our modern technological infrastructure (cell phones, laptops, etc.) running
  • The value of gold exists even in times of recession or economic depression.

Specific to Mining

  • Mines safety is not guaranteed, workers may get sick or be killed
  • Minerals extracted are nonrenewable resources

A. Oil Extraction

The Chad-Cameroon Pipeline: Big Promises; Little Benefit

In her project, Pipe(line) Dreams: A Journey Along the Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline, Pulitzer Center journalist Christiane Badgley investigates the oil pipleline across Chad and Cameroon built by ExxonMobil with support from the World Bank.

This project offers two video options, a short synopsis of the pipeline struggle and a longer, more in-depth exploration of the issue:

  1. "Chad-Cameroon Pipeline: Crude Awakening," Untold Stories, December 14, 2009, [2 minutes, 34 seconds]
  2. "Pipeline to Prosperity," PBS Frontline/World, June 7, 2010, [22 minutes, 39 seconds]

Have students view either video and consider the following questions:

  • What was the livelihood of the communities along the pipeline? What happened to their economic stability when the pipeline was installed?
  • How did the government compensate residents for lost resources? Do you agree or disagree with this compensation? Why?
  • Why do locals believe their crops are not growing?
  • Describe the proposed pipeline project impact. Describe the actual impact of the project. In what ways were people's expectations met? In what ways were they not met? In what ways did local conditions improve after the installation of the pipeline? In what ways did they not?
  • How could a project such as the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline create a community of environmental refugees?

The Ecuadorian Amazon: Was the Price too High?

In his project, Ecuador: Jungle Tensions, Pulitzer Center journalist Kelly Hearn explores the oil industry in Ecuador's northern Amazon regions.

Have students view the video:

  1. "The New Law of the Jungle," Foreign Exchange, September 5, 2008, [7 minutes, 22 seconds]

After the video, ask students to consider the following questions:

  • Describe how the oil industry affected the lives of the indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
  • What contamination did the people experience?
  • How did Texaco dispose of waste in the Lago Agrio area? Why was this problematic?
  • According to the report prepared for the trial, how much would Texaco have to pay to repair all of the damage done in the Lago Agrio area? What projects would this money support? Do you agree with this amount? Why or why not?
  • Why is the Texaco-Ecuadorian Amazon case significant on a global scale? Do you think this case will inspire other groups to take action? Why or why not?

Broader questions for consideration:

  • What happens when the land of indigenous people is destroyed by extractive industries? Where can these groups go? What are the rights of native people who don't have legal documents verifying their claim to land?
  • How is this case similar to the plight of Native Americans as colonists and settlers began moving west? What similarities exist? Differences?

Update on the story:

  1. "Chevron Fined $8 Billion for Amazon Pollution" By Shirli Sitbon, FRANCE 24, February 15, 2011
  2. "Chevron Ordered to Pay $8 Billion by Ecuador Court" Reuters, Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2011

Current Connection:

  1. "Looming Challenges for Southern Sudan: Regulating Oil Companies" By Rebecca Hamilton, The Washington Post, February 11, 2011
  • If the oil industry in South Sudan is not regulated, with the people of oil-rich areas face the same environmental crisis as the people of Lago Agrio?

B. Logging

The Impact of Malaysian Biofuels on the Rainforest

James Whitlow Delano's project, Malaysia: How Green Biofuels are Destroying the Little People of the Rainfore explores the struggles of indigenous people living in resource-rich areas in Malaysia.

You may ask students to read all three articles, or break them into smaller groups with each group exploring a different facet of the project and then sharing their findings with the whole group

a. Background on the Batek people:

"Ruined Rainforest: Malaysia's Little People vs the Loggers," Untold Stories, January 24, 2011

  • Who are the Batek people of Malaysia?
  • Describe the area of Malaysia where the Batek live.
  • Describe their way of life before the loggers arrived. How has it changed since the government has come in search of natural resources?
  • How do the Batek feel about their prospects for the future?

b. Logging in Malaysia

"Malaysia's Batek People Face a Crisis of Assimilation," Untold Stories, February 24, 2011

  • Why are Malaysian loggers able to repurpose the Batek homeland to palm plantations with relative impunity?
  • Describe the impact logging is having on the Batek homeland? How are the people responding to the encroachment by "Chinese loggers"?
  • How is the Malaysian government trying to help the Batek assimilate into the larger society? Is this effort successful? Why or why not? Do you believe it's sufficient, why or why not?

c. The Impact of Logging on the Earth's Surface:

"Sarawak and Brunei: Contrasts in Conservation," Untold Stories, February 8, 2011

  • What is happening in the rainforest in Sarawak? Is the Malaysian government in agreement with the logging activities?
  • What infrastructure has accompanied the increase in extractive industries in this area of the country? Why do some towns benefit from this growth while others do not? Do you feel the government should be regulating the distribution of resources and infrastructure more closely?
  • How are logging activities and palm plantations altering the Earth's surface? How are the industries affecting the local populations?
  • Describe the difference in appearance of Brunei and Sawarak.

C. Mining

The Hunt for Gold in French Guiana

In their project, "Gold, Guns, and Garimpeiros," Narayan Mahon and Damon Tabor investigate the illegal gold mining industry flourishing the rainforest of French Guiana.

Students may select either of the following activities, or you may choose to assign different groups to each activity.

  1. View Gold Rush in the Amazon and read the article "French Guiana: Mercury, the Global Threat," Untold Stories, Damon Tabor, July 16, 2010 OR
  2. View Gold, Guns, and Garimpeiros which showcases some of the sights and sounds of illegal gold mining in French Guiana, and read the article: "Like Butterflies in the Jungle," Harper's Magazine, by Damon Tabor and Narayan Mahon, January 14, 2011

Questions for students from videos and articles

  • From which countries are the garimpeiros arriving? What motivates them to enter the jungle?
  • Why is it illegal to mine in French Guiana?
  • Why has gold become such a valuable commodity recently? How does this increase in price influence the illegal mining industry?
  • How has the search for gold impacted mines and resource-rich areas across the globe?
  • Describe how the miners are able to bring their supplies into the Amazon?
  • How do the garimpeiros protect their mines? What is the immediate environmental impact of their activities? What do you think the long-term environmental impact will be?
  • What role does mercury play in the mining process? How does the use of mercury impact the miners and local populations?
  • What are international governments doing to try and stop the use of mercury by miners in French Guiana? Is this effort successful?
  • How is the French military trying to stop miners? Is this approach successful?
  • What will happen to groups living in, or near, the areas affected by the gold mining? Will they be able to preserve their way of life?

The Democratic Republic of Congo: When Mining Leads to War

In his project, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mvemba Phezo Dizolele, investigates the impact mining for Coltan has had on the DRC's ongoing conflict.

Have students review this article and video and reflect on the questions below:

  1. In Search of Congo's Coltan, by Mvemba Dizolele, Pambazuka News, August 8, 2007
  2. Congo's Bloody Coltan, PBS Foreign Exchange, October 27, 2006

Questions for students from the article and video:

  • What is Coltan? In what products is it used? Which countries do you think purchase the most Coltan? Are these the same countries that produce the Coltan?
  • Describe the peace-keeping presence in Bukavu: which groups are there? Why are they there? Are they upholding peace effectively?
  • Is the wealth stemming from Coltan mining evident in the town of Bukavu?
  • What does the term "kleptocratic" mean? Is it a fair description of the political groups governing the DRC?
  • Describe the Coltan processing plant – why was Dizolele surprised when he arrived at "Olive Depot?"
  • Despite the fact that miners and workers involved in processing Coltan earn less than $2.00, why do they continue to work in the industry?
  • How has Coltan fueled the Congolese civil war?
  • How is the mining industry affecting the lives of Congolese children?
  • Describe the conditions in the Coltan mines. Do you feel the international community, particularly the countries purchasing mineral resources from Congo, should be responsible for the mining conditions? Why or why not? Should they be responsible for the lack of economic growth that has occurred in Congo?

Additional Resources

Tchonia IDP Camps

  • If students are interested in viewing the conditions in which communities displaced by war live, Dizolele's slide show, Tchonia IDP Camps contains a few photos.


Earth Day Network


yellow halftone illustration of two construction workers moving a wheelbarrow of dirt


Extractive Industries

Extractive Industries