The US now gets more oil from Africa than from the Middle East. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, with 130 million residents. Nigeria is also Africa’s largest oil producer and third largest economy (second only to South Africa and Algeria), the world’s 11th-largest producer of oil, and fifth-largest supplier of foreign oil to the US. Current Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose two-term tenure expires in 2007, leads the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the larger African Union to assist the sub-Saharan region with economic development, integration, and peacekeeping processes. Many people believe that if Nigeria, the engine room of Africa, can pull itself up economically and socially, the rest of Africa will follow.
Yet, despite this vast wealth, and political clout, an estimated 70 percent of Nigerians live far below the poverty line – on less than $1 US per day – and without electricity, clean water, land or air. Some argue that Nigeria’s worst environmental atrocities are gas flares. These flares rise over 20 feet into the air from oil wells, refineries, and other petroleum facilities, not as a result of pipeline vandalism but as part of the standard operating procedures of oil companies such as Chevron Corporation. Flaring, the burning of “associated gas” that’s found under oil or separated from refined petroluem, is in direct violation of Nigerian law and, according to World Bank estimates, costs Nigeria over $2.5 billion per year in lost revenue. Nevertheless, more gas is flared in Nigeria than in any other nation in the world – over 2.5 billion cubic feet of gas blown into the air everyday. The blinding, deafening flares are found in rural areas, near family farms, schoolyards, and homes. Nigeria contributes more to global warming through gas flaring alone than all of sub-Saharan Africa combined! This is not exactly the type of state-sanctioned business behavior that denotes a government intending to guide Africa out of its past into a bright future.
Nigeria has entered into at least two new trans-regional agreements to capture and transport this gas associated with crude oil production. Instead of burning the gas and dumping toxins into the atmosphere, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp, in partnership with Chevron, Shell, and Ghana’s Volta River Authority, will begin exporting it through an offshore pipeline known as the West Africa Gas Pipeline (WAGP) to Ghana to help meet its growing energy demands. The pipeline will run from Chevron’s notorious Escravos terminal across the Niger Delta to its offshore point of origin in Lagos State and then stretch west across the Gulf of Guinea with docking points known as “landfall spurs” in Benin, Togo, and three places in Ghana, where it will terminate for now. Plans are to expand the pipeline all the way to Senegal, eventually serving Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The US Agency for International Development has so far invested over $1.5 million in WAGP; the World Bank has guaranteed loans, and US bank giant JP Morgan Chase is providing Chevron with private financial backing. It is unclear how much the US government has invested in “securing” the region to make this project possible.
An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been finished and the WAGP project is moving forward despite evidence that the Ghanaian energy facilities to be served by WAGP are not yet on-line, and some Ghanaian government officials are already expressing concerns over security and corruption. Additionally, 12 communities in Nigeria have filed a formal complaint with the World Bank because 23 communities in Nigeria alone (not to mention communities in Benin, Togo, and Ghana) will be forced into resettlement, and have not been properly consulted in compliance with the World Bank’s own standards. Major NGOs such as Friends of the Earth/Environmental Rights Action-Nigeria point out that the compensation promised to communities is grossly inadequate, sometimes as low as $20 US, and that there is no guarantee the captured gas feeding the WAGP will come from existing sources of associated gas rather than new oil fields. Existing problems with gas flaring will not be solved in any way, and the rights of people in the Niger Delta will continue to be denied them, while their resources will be carried away, once again, to benefit others.
Also in the works is the Trans-Sahara Gas Pipeline (TGSP). This proposed $6 billion pipeline would stretch over 2,600 miles across the Sahara desert from the Niger Delta through the country of Niger to Algeria’s border with Morocco, where it will connect to a pipeline running to southern Spain and the European Union. Currently, a “rapid” EIA is being conducted to assess the risks of various potential routes. If approved, the TGSP will likely be the largest privately financed project in sub-Saharan Africa’s history. The experience of the $3.7 billion Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline could easily be replicated, given the level of corruption and oppressive political climates in Nigeria, Niger, and Algeria. In January, the World Bank suspended its support of the Chadian government when it became clear oil revenues were not trickling down to social services as promised and the government refused to comply with transparency regulations.
With the support of multinational oil companies, Nigeria’s government and major businesses clearly focus more on the needs (or demands) of other nations than their own people’s. As gas reserves in Europe and the US decline, and demand rises as natural gas is touted as a clean fuel, more pressure is placed on the people of the Niger Delta. Such a narrow focus by our oil companies slows the development of cleaner energy technologies such as solar and wind power, blinds them to the injustices suffered by oil-producing communities, and further exacerbates our dependence on foreign oil.
As Nigeria’s role on the world stage continues to expand, and the oil and gas resources of the Niger Delta continue to benefit only the few, the promise of Nigeria leading Africa into a new era seems – literally – only a pipedream.
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