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Synthesis/Regeneration 46   (Summer 2008)

The Contribution of Gas Flaring in Nigeria to Global Warming

by Ben Wuloo Ikari

The presence of oil in a given region should be a blessing. Unfortunately, it is a curse in the Ogoni/Niger River Delta, considering the horrific experiences of the people at the hands of the Nigerian government and Shell Oil. Problems oil has brought to Nigeria range from Draconian laws, reckless handling of the environment, government and oil company insensitivity to the plight of the people, injustice, and roles of the international community.

Nigeria is said to be a federation of ethnic nationalities. However, the country is run as a unitary system where the central government is overly strong and dictatorial. It gained its style from the British colonial government that invaded, fought and conquered the already independent peoples who lived around the River Niger. So by 1960, after the forceful amalgamation of the so-called southern and northern protectorates, Nigeria, which is the most populous country in Africa, was born by becoming independent. At its birth about 300 different ethnic nationalities or groups were forced against their wishes to form the union, like in the former Soviet Union which had about 120 ethnic groups.

Among these ethnic groups are three cultures, the Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo, who have been in power since independence. Minority ethnic groups did not know what crude oil and gas were until Shell Petroleum Development Company, formerly known as Shell British Petroleum, struck oil in a small village called Oloibiri in 1956. In 1958, the same company struck oil in large commercial quantities in Ogoni. Shell came to Nigeria with the British as their commercial vehicle at a time when the British government and people embarked on massive exploration and exploitation of African resources for the expansion of their empire. Since this discovery, the once peaceful and beautiful Ogoni/Niger Delta environment has no longer been a source of fresh air, green vegetation and bountiful harvest.

. the once peaceful and beautiful Ogoni/Niger Delta environment has no longer been a source of fresh air, green vegetation and bountiful harvest.

The exclusion of the peoples of the Niger Delta from the political process from the very beginning gave the so-called majorities the audacity to treat the Niger environment with indifference during the extraction of oil. Since 1956 there have been no environmental assessment, social or health impact studies done in the region where over $600 billion have been received by the federal government from oil. Shell, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and many others, which are all Western and American, have likewise carted away uncountable oil revenue (these companies have not revealed the exact barrels of oil per day they mine and have not told the world the actual revenue earned from Niger Delta Oil). They know that in their home countries they could not start the production of hydrocarbons without conducting the assessment and impact studies.

They do not share in the environmental hazards faced by the people. The Western (and especially American) governments who have continually patronized the oil stolen from Ogoni/Niger Delta and who give Nigeria military support have likewise played ignoble roles in devastating and endangering the Niger delta environment, while protecting their own. Ken Saro-Wiwa formed the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in 1990 to awaken the consciousness of the Ogoni/Niger Delta people and other Nigerians to the environmental and economic injustices forced down their throats by the government, Shell, and their international collaborators. He was murdered by hanging with eight others on November 10, 1995.

About 11 years later a freedom-fighting group known as the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) emerged to continue the struggle for environmental and resource control, though with a violent method. After its emergence, over 800,000 barrels of daily oil production has been prevented from flowing into the international oil market. These cuts, and the problems in the Middle East (which have also cut about 660,000 barrels of oil per day), have no doubt contributed to high gas prices. MEND is threatening to cut more if the federal government and oil companies do not meet their needs, which are simply rights to the environment and resource control.

Aquatic life becomes imperiled when it cannot perceive the difference between day and night.

Gas flaring

Excessive burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming. The common term used to qualify the excessive burning of gas, especially by oil companies, is "gas flaring."

The World Wide Fund for Nature has calculated that Shell Oil's gas flares in Nigeria are a major contributor to global warming. And the UN Conference on Environment and Development also concluded that the Niger Delta is a home to coastal rainforest and mangrove habitats and is considered "the most endangered river delta of the world." Suffice it to say that nothing has made Niger River Delta so endangered as the reckless oil exploratory and exploitative activities by Shell Petroleum.

Shell Oil flares about 86% of its gas. It has spilled over 40% of its oil in the Ogoni/ Niger Delta region. Pressure from the late Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP, along with other human rights and environmental pressure groups, forced Shell to promise to stop all gas flares by 2008. But it has, as usual, recanted that promise, claiming 2008 is not feasible.

In order to extract oil, companies set up a flow-station that connects high-pressure pipelines from numerous oil fields and wells. A device is set up to serve as a burning stand where heat pressure is increased for the burning of crude oil, which melts into by-products. At these stands open mouth pipes are set facing the sky. They channel all burning substances like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane, which evaporate into the atmosphere. These substances settle in the clouds and form acid rain that the Ogoni/Niger Deltans drink as water.

Gas flaring causes prickly heat and excessive sweating that leads to dehydration. Other effects include premature births, restlessness, respiratory and other lung problems and diseases.

Most trees and crops cut down in this region are for the commencement of oil activities. Aquatic life becomes imperiled when it cannot perceive the difference between day and night. When oil and gas spill into rivers and creeks they poison the water, making it dangerous and uninhabitable. Aquatic creatures of common rivers and creeks find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move into salt water.

Shell Oil and others continue to flare gas in the Niger River Delta. These gross inhuman acts are only done in the Delta of Nigeria, Africa. They all adhere very strictly to environmental laws, rules and regulations in their mother countries, but see Africa as a land for reckless exploitation, degradation and death. They do in Africa what they dare not do in Europe and America. Their many atrocities amount to environmental racism and genocide. The United Nations defines genocide as an attempt to cleanse a race or group of people from the surface of the earth. When people are deprived, their environment poisoned and sickness rampant, aquatic life made extinct, land left dying and human beings left impoverished with no source of livelihood, genocide is what is taking place.

They do in Africa what they dare not do in Europe and America.

We have seen poverty, hunger and starvation in alarming dimensions in Africa, even though it is one of the richest, if not the richest continent of the world, except for hyper-exploitation by the West and America and gross mismanagement by African leaders. More and more climate changes, famine, floods, starvation, death and extinctions are what to expect should we fold our arms and not pressure governments, industries and multinational oil monsters to change their methods of operation.

We have seen famines and floods (resulting from rising sea levels) of varying dimensions in other parts of the world. We have seen the actions of tsunamis, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, widespread fires, harsh storms, and heat waves in Asia and North America. Scientists have predicted more hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves, wild fires and harsher storms, and coastal flooding in North America. Africa would be the worst hit, with up to 270 million people exposed to water shortages by 2020. This would dramatically affect food production.


The first step is to acknowledge that there is a deadly plague called global warming, and then join forces with all human and environmental rights groups to push the campaign for a safe environment to the US Congressmen and women. Mass mobilization and enlightenment campaigns are indeed needed to curb the excessive danger inherent in global warming. All should support the Ogoni in their class action lawsuit against Shell Oil. This legal action is for human rights violations, extra-judicial killings, etc. This case has lasted for about five years and is dragging gradually to trial.

We should also pressure the US government under President George W. Bush to approve legislation that will direct all American oil companies in the Niger Delta and other parts of the world to stop all forms of gas flaring. America buys over 40% of Niger Delta oil. Therefore it has the moral responsibility to put an end to the reckless methods used in flaring gas in Nigeria.

Nigeria is the fourth largest energy supplier to the US. So long as this oil continues to flow to the American reservoirs and gas pumps, the US government does not do anything to stop the flaring, even though recklessness like the lack of environmental assessment and social health impact studies on gas flares are not condoned in America. The US government is a partner in environmental racism due to its actions and continued support for the Nigerian government and its military.

The US government is a partner in environmental racism due to its actions and continued support for the Nigerian government and its military.

The second step is to send letters/petitions to Congressmen and women urging them to make it mandatory for American oil companies to respect the sacred land of the Ogoni/Niger Delta peoples. We should urge Congress to pass bills that would stop the US government from giving military support to Nigeria and stop the purchase of Nigerian oil.

A third step is exerting pressure on the US government to join the world in enacting reasonable rules, regulations or laws to preserve and protect the world's environment. The US delegation walked out of the conference in South Africa about three years ago and did not sign a pact aimed at preserving and protecting the environment. The reason is that the government is owned and run by big industrialists. America is a democracy but a very imperialistic and capitalistic one. The people of America have the power, the great voice that, if expressed, can stop and save the Earth from an impending danger.

This is excerpted from a talk that Ben Wuloo Ikari gave at the May 2, 2007 Black & Green Wednesday program in St. Louis. Mr. Ikari is author of Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP and Inspiration-Speak Your Mind. He is the founder of the Ogoni Children's Cultural And Fundamental Rights Council (OCAFAC).

[7 may 09]

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