Nigerian Court Gives Shell One Year to Stop Gas Flaring

BENIN CITY, Nigeria, April 11, 2006 (ENS) – The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited must stop flaring gas in the Iwherekan community in Delta State by April 2007, the Nigerian High Court ruled today.

The court has ordered Shell’s managing director in Nigeria and the Nigerian Minister for Petroleum Resources to appear in person before the judge in open court on May 31 in Benin City with detailed plans for putting gas flares out by April 2007.

Daukoru

Dr. Edmund Daukoru is Nigerian Minister of State for Petroleum Resources (Photo courtesy OPEC)
Minister of State for Petroleum Resources of Nigeria, Dr. Edmund Daukoru, is also the current OPEC Conference President and OPEC Secretary General.

Also ordered to appear before the judge is Basil Efoise Omiyi, managing director of Shell Nigeria. Appointed in 2004, Omiyi is the first Nigerian to hold this post.

Reverend Nnimmo Bassey, executive director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, said, "We expect this judgment to be respected and that for once the oil corporations will accept the truth and bring their damaging and wasteful flaring activities to a halt."

Friends of the Earth International, which advocates for an end to the flaring, calls the decision "a welcome victory for the mostly poor people affected by the damaging and wasteful practice of flaring in the oil-rich Niger delta."

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Shell gas flare at Rumuekpe in Rivers State, June 2004 (Photo © Elaine Gilligan courtesy Friends of the Earth)
In an earlier judgement of the High Court on November 14, 2005, the judge ordered the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (Shell Nigeria) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to stop gas flaring in the Iwherekan community, as gas flaring violates guaranteed constitutional rights to life and dignity.

Judge C.V. Nwokorie wrote, "That these constitutionally guaranteed rights inevitably includes the rights to clean poison-free, pollution-free health environment."

In the November ruling, the judge ordered Shell Nigeria and the NNPC to "take immediate steps to stop the further flaring in the applicant's community."

But despite the November judgment in favor of the Iwherekan community and "applicant" Jonah Gbemre, flaring in the community has continued.

The defendants - Shell Nigeria and the NNPC - did not appear in court in November, prompting the judge today to order their personal appearance at the May 31 hearing.

Omiyi

Basil Omiyi is managing director of Shell Nigeria. (Photo courtesy Shell Nigeria)
Nigeria has been the world's biggest gas flarer, and the practice has contributed more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa combined, as well as poisoning localities where the flaring occurs, according to Friends of the Earth International.

The practice costs Nigeria about US$2.5 billion annually, while about 66 percent of its population live on less than US$1 a day.

Shell Nigeria has said that it plans to stop flaring before the end of 2009.

"Oil giant Shell was told twice now to stop gas flaring. Nevertheless, Shell plans to continue flaring until 2009. It is time that Shell starts to respect Nigerian law and stops breaching human rights in the Iwherekan community and in the rest of Nigeria," said Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth International.

In a February 2006 unrelated development, the Federal High Court of Nigeria in Port Harcourt ordered Shell and its partners to pay Southern Niger Delta Ijaw communities $1.5 billion in compensation for environmental pollution and degradation in the Delta. The sum was ordered by the Nigerian parliament in August 2004.

Also in February, Shell Nigeria and the NNPC Research & Development Division signed a one year, N240 million contract "to enable the Anglo giant reduce the level of its operation’s impact on the environment," the NNPC said in a statement.

Shell Nigeria Wells Manager Hans Flikkema signed the agreement on behalf of Shell. Under the agreement, the division will carry out environmental compliance monitoring of Shell's locations in the Niger Delta.

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NNPC Research Division head Sola Alabi signs the environmental research agreement with Shell Nigeria Wells Manager Hans Flikkema. (Photo courtesy NNPC)
Speaking at the signing, Sola Alabi, an engineer who serves as general manager of the Research and Development Division, said that petroleum exploration and production activities produce "atmospheric emissions, drill cuttings, drilling fluid, deck drainage, sanitary sewage and accidental oil spills."

He said data must be gathered from operational locations to ascertain the levels of "various parameters in the ecosystem" before, during and after exploration activities to enable operators plan for remedial action to reduce the levels of impact in the environment where necessary.

Alabi said one objective of the agreement is to "identify ways to minimize any claims of third parties on environmental matters in relation to specific SPDC activity through generated data."

Services provided to Shell will include an extensive literature review of the related work, fieldwork and sample collection, and laboratory analysis.

The environmental compliance monitoring will be implemented in three phases - baseline studies, monitoring after three months, and six months of Shell operations in the area.

Alabi said Nigeria will benefit from enhancement of facilities at the NNPC’s research and development division and more Nigerian participation under the "rejuvenated Nigerian content policy of the federal government," as well as the preservation of the Niger Delta environment.