Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Environmental Racism ? Or Capitalism ?

We read that Shell's Opolo-Epie facility gives the lie to claims from oil multinationals and the Nigerian government that they are close to bringing an end to the destructive and wasteful practice of gas flaring.The Opolo-Epie plant is set to join at least 100 other flares burning across the swamps, creeks and forests of this oil-producing region, filling the atmosphere with toxins, seeding the clouds with acid rain and polluting the soil. The process of burning off unwanted "associated gas" brought up when oil is pumped out of the ground has been illegal in Nigeria since 1984. The government has set three separate deadlines for stopping the practice – the latest of which falls due at the end of this year – but still it continues. Medical studies have shown the gas burners contribute to an average life expectancy in the Delta region of 43 years. The area also has Nigeria's highest infant mortality rate – 12 per cent of newborns fail to see out their first year.
"This is environmental racism," said Alagoa Morris, an investigator with a local group, Environmental Rights Action. "What we are asking for is that oil companies should have to meet the same standards in Nigeria that they do operating in their own countries."

In a country where more than 60 per cent of the people have no reliable electricity supply the gas flares, some of which have been burning constantly since the 1960s ,is equivalent to more than one third of the natural gas produced in the UK's North Sea oil and gas fields and would meet the entire energy requirements of German industry.( Worldwide, the gas lost to flaring could meet one third of the EU's natural gas needs each year.) Making use of the gas being burned could produce 8,000 megawatts of power – three times Nigeria's current output. A single small- to medium-sized flare could power up to 5,000 homes, shops, schools and clinics as well as pumps and filters for drinking water.

The pollution generated from this flaring has been measured at up to 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, with unknown quantities of the far more damaging greenhouse gas: methane. According to Chris Cragg, an independent oil and gas expert. "It is one of the largest single pointless emissions of greenhouse gas on the planet, with obvious implications for climate change that will not only affect Nigeria, but also the rest of the world."

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