Legal action against gas flaring in Nigeria

A legal action against some of the world's biggest oil and gas companies has been filed in Nigeria to stop the officially banned practice of gas-flaring.

Shell, Exxon, Chevron and Total have all been named in the action along with the Nigerian government itself and the Nigerian National Petroleum company.

It has been brought by rural communities in the areas affected by the flaring with the support of Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth. It is designed to highlight the issue of gas flaring ahead of next month's G8 summit.

The World Bank estimates that gas flaring has contributed more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa combined. Groups bringing the case say Niger Delta communities have been affected by exposure to a cocktail of toxic substances such as benzene and particulates causing severe health risks and property damage, in violation of their human rights.

Tare Dadiowei from the Gbarain community in Bayelsa State commented: "It is our hope that the laws of Nigeria will protect us from the continuous violations of our human rights and destruction of our livelihood by Shell. While Shell makes cheap excuses for the continuing flaring of gas in our communities, we bear the huge costs with our contaminated air and soil, diseases and death."

Burning off the excess gases was officially banned in Nigeria in 1984, but oil companies have been repeatedly granted ministerial permission to continue. The Nigerian government promised it would end the practice by 2008 but Shell has said it will not meet that target.

By burning off the 2.5 billion cubic feet of gas a day instead of harnessing it for energy, Nigeria is losing US$2.5 billion in potential reserves annually, Friends of the Earth claims.

Che Ibegwura from Erema said: "Our farmlands have been polluted. We labour hard to plant but little comes out. Our roofs are corroded. Our air is polluted. Our children are sick. Even the rainwater we drink is contaminated with black soot from the gas flares. We cannot continue with this suffering. We need to take legal action to protect ourselves, our children and our future."

It is unlikely the case will achieve its goals as crude oil accounts for approximately 90% of all Nigeria's export earnings. However, campaigners feel it is worth bringing to highlight the problems of environmental responsibility.

"As the G8 prepares to discuss climate change and Africa, Nigerian gas flaring provides them with an outrageous example of the problems. It is a shameful and indefensible stain on the reputation of western oil companies," said Peter Roderick, co-Director of the Climate Justice Programme.

"The appalling waste of greenhouse gases in one of the world's poorest countries is a violation of the human rights of those subjected to the flaring. It is astonishing that it continues on such a scale when Nigerian regulations have prohibited the practice in general since 1984."

The action was filed in the Federal High Court of Nigeria in Benin City on June 20th.

By David Hopkins



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