NEWS Environmental Rights Action and The Climate Justice Programme have released a report on gas flaring in the Niger Delta and are suing oil companies and the Nigerian government for decades of damage.
Nigeria’s oil wealth has been exploited for more than 45 years. But while oil companies including Shell, ExxonMobil and TotalFinaElf, have profited from the resource, local communities live with the daily pollution caused by non-stop gas flaring – where the gas associated with oil extraction is burnt off into the atmosphere.
More gas is flared in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world – in western Europe 99 per cent of associated gas is used or re-injected into the ground. But in Nigeria, despite regulations introduced more than 20 years ago to outlaw the practice, most associated gas is flared, causing local pollution and contributing to climate change.
Oil production began in the Niger Delta about 45 years ago and so did the practice of flaring associated gas. The waste involved in the practice, and the expected controversy, was recognised early on.
There is confusion over how much oil and associated gas is produced in Nigeria. The most recent and independent information source suggests that over 3.5 billion standard cubic feet (scf) of associated gas was produced in 2000, of which more than 70 per cent was burnt off, ie flared. As oil production has increased, Nigeria has become the world’s biggest gas flarer, both proportionally and absolutely, with around 2 billion scf, perhaps 2.5 billion scf, a day being flared. This is equal to about 25 per cent of the UK’s gas consumption.The single biggest flarer is the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC).
A recent report estimates flaring to represent an annual economic loss to the country of about US $2.5 billion.
The Environmental Impacts
The flares also contain widely-recognised toxins, such as benzene, which pollute the air. Local people complain of respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis. According to the US government, the flares contribute to acid rain and villagers complain of the rain corroding their buildings. The particles from the flares fill the air, covering everything with a fine layer of soot.
Local people also complain about the roaring noise and the intense heat from the flares. They live and work alongside the flares with no protection.
General flaring was made illegal under regulations in 1984, and only allowed in specific circumstances on a field-by-field basis pursuant to a ministerial certificate. None of these certificates have been made public. President Obasanjo has agreed to put back the 2004 flares-out” deadline to 2008.
What needs to be done?
The Royal Dutch Shell Group’s over-statement of its reserves is also a part of the picture. Nigerian reserves made up the largest single contribution to the Group’s recent reserves “recategorisation”, and Shell’s concealment strategy to avoid disclosing the over-estimates to the Nigerian Government was based on increasing production, and so increasing flaring.
Friends of the Earth believes that gas flaring should end immediately – it violates the human rights of those living nearby. 2008 is much too late. Companies currently flaring gas in Nigeria should disclose the ministerial certificates which demonstrate they are entitled under the regulations to continue flaring.
Friends of the Earth is also campaigning as part of the CORE Coalition for changes to UK company law so that financial obligations on UK companies are counterbalanced by social and environmental concerns.
CORE believes the Government must introduce new legislation introducing:
• Mandatory reporting – requiring all UK companies to report annually on the impact of their operations, policies, products and procurement practices on people and the environment both in the UK and abroad;
• New legal duties on directors – to take reasonable steps to reduce any significant negative social or environmental impacts;
• Foreign direct liability – to enable affected communities abroad to seek redress in the UK for
These measures would require UK oil companies operating in Nigeria to report on the significant negative impacts of their business operations and would provide local communities affected by oil companies’ flaring operations with a statutory right to seek redress by bringing a case in the UK courts.
For information see:
Download this briefing. (PDF 80kb)