Another setback for gas flaring in Nigeria

Oil companies have lost another legal case over gas flaring in Nigeria, to the delight of campaigners who oppose the practice on the grounds that it is polluting, wasteful and violates human rights.

The Nigerian High Court ordered Shell to stop burning off excess gas from oil wells in the Iwherekan community in Delta State by April 2007. This is the second setback for the oil giant, which had lost a similar case in November 2005 over gas flaring in the Niger Delta (see related story.

Despite the practice being illegal in Nigeria since 1984, the country retains the world record for gas flaring, which gives off more greenhouse gas emissions than the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa combined.

Nigerian ministers have regularly issued special permits to companies that give them exemption from the ban, although all requests to make these public have been denied, says campaign group Climate Justice.

Following Tuesday’s verdict, the managing director of Shell Nigeria and the Nigerian Minister for Petroleum must appear before the court on May 31 with detailed plans of how they plan to put out the fires by the required date.

Reverend Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth Nigeria commented on the verdict: “We fully expected Shell’s baseless application to be rejected since the High Court had earlier ruled their gas flaring acts as illegal and criminal.

“As it stands, we urge Shell to respect this ruling by ensuring that their big guns appear in person before the judge and that they show the world their detailed plan of action to stop the flares by April 2007.”

As well as contributing to climate change, the toxic cocktail emitted from gas flares pollutes the air, causing local inhabitants to develop lung disease, asthma and leukaemia, environmental and human rights campaigners say.

Alison Dilworth of Friends of the Earth commented: “Flaring is a human rights violation which damages the health and livelihoods of communities across the Delta, as well as significantly contributing towards climate change. Today’s verdict puts Shell under a legal obligation to end flaring and is a victory in the campaign to end flaring.”

Gas flaring is also wasteful, with the natural gas that goes up in smoke worth around $2.5bn each year according to World Bank estimates, in a country where two thirds of the population live on less than US$1 a day.

Shell had said it does not intend to stop flaring before the end of 2009, despite a 2008 deadline imposed earlier.

More information on gas flaring in Nigeria can be found in a Global Justice report on the issue.

Goska Romanowicz

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