Saturday, July 23, 2005

Gas flaring in Nigeria

It isn't possible to highlight every instance of human activity which needlessly contributes to climate change. Once in a while an issue grabs my attention due to current importance or it's potential. Gas flaring in Nigeria is the most recent issue to attract my attention. The scale of the problem is horrifying and as an illustration of corporate contempt for environmental issues it is exemplary.

On the first point, that of scale, Nigeria flares more gas than any other country. The relevant figure is roughly
2.5 billion cubic feet per day! Now this sounds like a lot but how significant is it? It is globally significant! To tackle the problem of flaring gas in Nigeria would make a significant contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions (incredible for a single issue)! Flaring contributes more to global warming than the emissions of Sub-Saharan Africa combined! It is equivalent to 40% of all natural gas used in the continent of Africa.

The need to use fossil fuels as a source of energy in the short term during a transitional period to renewables or nuclear (contentious) is acceptable to me; particularly in developing countries as long as the utilization of these fuels is done efficiently. However it can never be justified to waste the limited and valuable reserves of fossil fuels, emitting carbon emissions without harvesting energy is in my opinion grossly irresponsible and reprehensible. In the case of gas flaring in Nigeria the issue is with AG (Associated Gas, i.e found along with oil). It seems to me that the companies exploiting oil reserves have a responsibility for any pollution they cause, local or global. The emissions of flared gas are therefore adding to the ecological debt owed by Shell, ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Agip and TotalFinaElf (in order of decreasing emissions).

Although the remit of this site is purely climate change issues I think it is worth noting that the problem of gas flaring in Nigeria is symptomatic of a wider problem, that of corporate governance and accountability. It is the common conception amongst those living in the developed world that flaring occurs on highly elevated stacks or out at sea. In Nigeria however flaring occurs not only on stacks but also, regularly, at ground level with no fence as protection. More importantly the emissions are not just carbon dioxide but also dioxins, benzene and numerous carcinogens. Much of the Nigerian economy is based on subsistence agriculture these flares damage the economy by preventing growth around them for hundreds of yards and retarding growth in crops up to a kilometer away. The health implications on the local communities are also dramatic, the multinationals are abusing the human rights of hundreds of thousands of Nigerians in the densely populated Nigerian delta region.

To illustrate that oil companies work despite the populous not for them I have the following figures to present.
The oil revenue produced by exploiting Nigerian oil wells was 27bn dollars in 2004. Just as an indication of what this would achieve if run by a co-operative or was national with the income being distributed equally among the population, 27,000,000,000 between 120,000,000 Nigerians is 225 Dollars each per year (a significant contribution above what is earned by subsistence farming and limited industry). Obviously the companies are running things in reality so this is over optimistic, what contribution are these oil companies actually making? In 1985 43% of Nigerians lived on less than one dollar a day in 2002 the figure is 66%! This is despite the increasing exploitation of Nigerias' oil reserves, and obviously most the gdp of Nigerians is from agriculture.

Back the issue of flaring: there is widespread agreement between government and industry that flaring has to stop. However as a recent report states, the history of commitments on this issue is the history of "Broken promises, shifting ground, shady deals and ignored legislation"

A project for liquefying gas (by cooling) and transporting it by pipeline to Benin,Ghana and Togo was seen as the corner stone of corporate efforts to end flaring.However the newly constructed pipelines and collection systems ostensibly for associated gas are instead being used for regular gas fields and the gas from oil wells continues to be flared! The aforementioned pipeline was funded in part by the world bank ($125 million dollars) and a request was made to the world bank to require associated gas to be utilized rather than 'normal' gas as this would prevent flaring. The world bank declined this request despite the comments of the US government who stated that: "the major environmental benefit of the WAGP (west African gas pipeline) will be the reduction in associated gas flared in Nigeria". Without rules by the world bank or from the corrupt govornment action will not be taken.

Please become active on this issue, read a report on the subject by the Climate Justice program and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.
Also have a look at the links to more information on the CLIMATE CHANGE RESOURCES website. An audio file of a 10 minute talk given by Nimo Basso, a Nigerian architect who brought this issue to my attention is available on the following website:

After that please feel free to write to youre MP and ask what the UK government is doing about the problem, or write to any of the Big 5 involved in the exploitation, I wrote to shell as they are the worst offenders.

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At 4:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shell should be sued in the US over this issue. It is criminal for them to flare so much gas in order to save a few million dollars.
The are Overheating MY HOUSE in Houston by flaring in Nigeria

At 4:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will stop buying shell gas period. They are a bunch of criminals. We should go and flare some gas by the home of their CEO and by his children school

At 5:54 PM, Blogger Calvin Jones said...

The story continues...
Apparently shell have 50% of the oil licences in Nigeria.
Putting Shell back in the spotlight
Shell is certainly not the only player in the Niger Delta; ExxonMobil, Agip, Chevron Texaco, and other transnationals work in joint venture with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Yet Shell remains the perfect target because they are the largest operator, taking more than 50 per cent of the oil. They have also had the most pressure brought to bear on the question of their operations in the Delta and have worked harder than most to paint themselves as good corporate citizens, meaning they have concerns about how they are viewed by their shareholders and, more broadly, the public.

The situation in the Delta, of course, is not as Shell would have you believe. Operations continue at standards that would not be acceptable in Australia or the UK. A massive network of pipelines and facilities snake down like an enormous river from the north and into the two main ports at the coast.

Poorly kept pipelines constantly rupture and spill, and according to ERA not a single accident has ever been fully cleaned up. The people of the Delta are poor, beyond the imagination of most Australians. They rely on land and river for their food and other necessities of life. They live with such little leeway between having enough and going hungry.

The impacts of the industry are nothing less than devastating. Gas flares burn 24 hours-a-day, year on year, just hundreds of metres from homes. Pipelines that run right through settlements rupture and ruin farmland, kill rivers, and often people as well when they catch fire.

Fuel poverty is endemic, so when a pipeline does rupture, people try and collect the fuel, usually by hand. Almost routinely dozens of people are incinerated when the oil catches fire.

Environmentalists say the oil multinationals have never taken any of government’s gas flaring deadlines seriously. They say government’s disinclination to sanction oil firms when they step out of line and its lack of interest in goings-on in the Niger Delta in past years emboldened these oil firms and made them to be contemptuous of deadlines. “Oil giant Shell was told twice to stop gas flaring. Nevertheless, Shell plans to continue flaring until 2010. It is time that Shell starts to respect Nigerian law and stops breaching human rights in the Iwherekan community and in the rest of Nigeria,” chairman of Friends of the Earth International, Meena Raman, says

Previously on the BBC...

At 5:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have recently become increasingly interested in the CDM mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. Nigeria currently has 2 registered projects and in the energy sector. Specifically associated gas recovery projects. Shell Afam and Chevron Escravos are also in the pipeline. Do you honestly think they should qualify as CDM projects or are we better off with projects leading to sustainable development for rural people.


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