Poisoning the Niger Delta and Shell’s Corporate Responsibilty

While millions of people in the Balkans and Eastern Europe have to cope in the bitter cold of a European winter without being able to burn natural gas for fuel gas, due to a dispute between Russia and the Ukraine, natural gas is being wasted thousands of miles away in Africa in the Niger Delta. Just as the cold weather is causing hardship and exacerbating ill health in Eastern Europe, so the wasteful burning of natural gas in Nigeria is damaging the health of many Nigerians.

The problem arises because Nigeria, who produces more natural gas than any nation except Russia, has many oil wells in the hot marshy swamps of the Niger Delta. As the oil is drilled and rises to the surface of the earth, it contains bubbles of natural gas.

Instead of trapping and storing the natural gas, the oil companies that do the drilling find it cheaper, or in their terms more cost effective, to burn the gas. Nigeria would welcome electricity generated by burning the waste natural gas in a controlled manner, in modern power stations. It would need to build power stations and create a better grid. So far these seem to be not on anyone’s agenda.

Not only is the gas burnt without a positive outcome, no electricity is generated and no useful energy is made, the burning is causing damage to the health of many of the Nigerians who live close to the oil wells. It is making their environment bad by injecting into their air and the poisoning the soil of their farms with the toxins that uncontrolled, unfiltered gas burning brings.

Local residents and pressure groups claim that there are much higher rates of cancers and asthma in places where uncontrolled burning takes place. Of course the emission bill from this waste burning is very high; more emissions are created from this than from the rest of the whole of sub Saharan Africa put together. It is an action which deliberately adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Apparently under Nigerian law it is illegal to burn waste natural gas in this way, but this illegality does not stop Shell, who is a large burner of natural gas, from still burning. It is odd that Shell can apparently act in an unlawful way in Nigeria. They would not behave like this in the United Kingdom or the United States of America, would they?

Mr Van de Veer, Chief Executive of Shell, said in an interview with Mr George Monbiot, said about gas burning “I hope it will only be a bit longer” and “we will work as fast as we can” and “the Nigerian Government has an important role to play”. These are meaningless statement, worthy of any politician.

Mr Van de Meer cites the security problems of building pipelines and gas electricity generating stations. He points out that there is a real threat of kidnapping of Shell’s employees. This is clearly a real factor, but is it impossible to overcome by a company with Shell’s resources and by the Nigerian Government?

Mr Van de Meer refused to be specific when Mr Monbiot gave him an opportunity by asking whether the burning will stop next year. It seemed to me that when Mr Monbiot pressed Mr Van de Meer on ethical issues Mr Van de Meer hide behind Shell’s Corporate Responsibility Policy.

In order to stop burning there are only two choices. The first is to stop oil production until an infrastructure has been built to use the gas that is wasted at the moment. The second is to continue producing the oil but rapidly put the infrastructure to use the gas at the same time.

He seems to rest the blame on the Nigerian Government, who has a controlling shareholding in the oil companies that operate the wells but who need the income from the oil. The Nigerian Government point out that the Government is a shareholder, not oil well operators and the responsibility for the burning lies with the well operators. That is true; companies are not run by shareholders but by directors. The responsibility for the burning lies with the directors of the operating companies who have decided to burn the waste gas, notwithstanding the damage that it causes.

So the natural gas still continues to be burnt, wastefully, and hundreds of oil wells in the Niger delta. People are suffering as a result of this burning, their health ruined and their life expectancy shortened. Shell publishes a Corporate Responsibility Policy, but its “ethics” allows Shell to poison people in places where it drills for oil.

When I read the Policy I found We are truly committed to pursuing the goal of no harm to people or assets as a result of our operations.” http://www.shell.com/static/src-en/downloads/annual_reports/2006/ar2006_sd_commitment.pdf

In the developed world we fete Shell and companies like them, buying their shares with our savings and giving their top executives immediate access to Governments all over the world. We listen to their self serving suggestions and more often than not embrace them as policies and laws. When they come across an inconvenient law, they ignore it, where those protecting by such laws are without the resources or facilities to enforce the law. That is how the world works, but it is not ethical.

It makes you wonder why Shell wastes the paper and the internet space to bother publishing their Corporate Responsibility Policy.

 

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for such an informative article. It is really great!!!
    THANK YOU!!!

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