Nigeria orders end to gas flaring

Oil and gas companies have been ordered to stop gas flaring in the Niger Delta, after the Federal High Court said the practice violates guaranteed constitutional rights to life and dignity.

Nigeria is the world’s biggest gas-flarer and the World Bank estimates that gas-flaring has contributed more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa combined. In addition, it is claimed, by burning off the 2.5 billion cubic feet of gas a day instead of harnessing it as energy, Nigeria is losing US$2.5 billion a year in lost revenues.

The case is one of many that were brought against some of the biggest names in the oil and gas business, including Shell, Exxon, Chevron and Total, by rural communities in the areas affected by the flaring, with the support of Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth in June this year (see related story).

These communities say they 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.

The burning off of gas was officially banned in Nigeria in 1984, but oil companies have been repeatedly granted ministerial permission to continue.

Now, the judge in the case declared the permission to be unconstitutional and ordered the Attorney General to meet with the Federal Executive Council – the country’s highest executive body – in order to bring the law into line with present day practice, rules and regulations governing oil and gas activities.

Paul de Clerck, corporate campaigner at Friends of the Earth said this was a landmark judgement. “We applaud the courage of the judge in giving a clear message that flaring is an outdated practice that is not acceptable in Nigeria. We also applaud the court’s decision to apply rights guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution to an environmental case for the first time in Nigeria in line with other countries.”

However, the ruling was almost immediately contested by Shell. Through its Nigerian arm, the Shell Petroleum Development Corporation has “immediately filed a notice of appeal challenging the validity of the judgement on the basis of violation of legal process.”

Prior to the case, the Government had said that it would end the practice of gas-flaring in 2008 but Shell has said it cannot meet that target either and will be a year late.

“We very much regret that past under-funding, coupled with some project delays, means that we will still be putting out the last flares in 2009 – about a year later than we had originally planned,” it said in a statement.

By David Hopkins

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