Ogoni: Shell Pressed on Nigerian Practices
As Shell prepares to stand trial for complicity in the murder of nine activists who opposed the oil giant's environmental and health impact on Nigerian communities, an international coalition is launching a campaign to demand the company halt the harmful practice of gas flaring.
• The global drive to hold Royal Dutch Shell accountable and compel it to stop gas flaring in Nigeria was re-ignited last month [April 2009], when a U.S. judge ruled that Shell must stand trial for its alleged role in the torture and execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Nigerian activists. The efforts, led by the environmental and human rights groups Friends of the Earth, Oil Change International, and PLATFORM/Remember Saro-Wiwa, center around the ShellGuilty.com Web site but also include "grassroots advocacy, TV and online ads, and calls for Shell to come clean about its corporate irresponsibility, human rights abuses, and record of environmental devastation," according to the coalition.
• "During the drilling for crude oil, gas usually comes to the surface as well and is often vented or flared instead of used, particularly in countries that lack effective regulations, gas markets, and the necessary infrastructure to utilize the gas," explains the World Bank, which has launched a public-private partnership to help reduce the amount of gas flared in countries including Canada, Norway, and Angola. The Bank estimates that globally around 150 billion cubic meters of gas -- an amount equal to 30 percent of the European Union's total gas consumption -- are flared or burned every year, causing some 400 million tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions.
• But economic waste and carbon emissions are not the concerns that have brought Nigerians out en masse against the practice. "Huge flames billow in the air over Ebocha, Nigeria, and above them, black clouds leap into the sky," reported National Public Radio's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton from the region in 2007, noting the noxious fumes that loom over homes, farms, and shops, and the "strange smell" and "audible hiss" in the air. "In the areas close to the gas flares, medical staff report treating patients with all sorts of illnesses that they believe are related to the flames: bronchial, chest, rheumatic, and eye problems, among others," she reported, adding that local residents have a hard time sleeping because of the noise.
• "Gas flaring in Nigeria, where Shell is by far the largest oil company, poisons Niger Delta communities and is a large, wasteful source of global warming pollution," said Elizabeth Bast of Friends of the Earth. "It's time for Shell to end to its human rights abuses and climate crimes, including its gas flaring in Nigeria." The group is encouraging concerned people around the world to pressure Shell to stop the practice. [...] World Bank figures show that more gas is flared in Nigeria than any other country in the world except Russia.
• "Ken Saro-Wiwa's hanging revealed the true price of oil," said Steve Kretzmann of Oil Change International. "We remember Saro-Wiwa by keeping alive his nonviolent struggle," added Ben Amunwa of PLATFORM/Remember Saro-Wiwa. The Nigerian activist was a leader in the movement to defend the rights of Nigeria's Ogoni people and bring an end to Shell's gas flaring in Ogoni regions. Detained, imprisoned, and tortured during the early 1990s, he was executed by the state alongside eight fellow Ogoni activists in 1995. "Substantial evidence indicates Shell collaborated with the Nigerian government in a campaign of brutal crackdowns that culminated in the execution of Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues," writes the Shell Guilty campaign coalition.