Chapter 4 : Niger Delta

Niger Delta oil flares, broken laws, pollution and oppression

By Fidelis Allen



When oil is extracted, it comes out with water and with associated gas. In the Niger Delta, this associated gas is flared in situ with grave damage to the environment and to the neighbouring communities. The practice is forbidden but companies like Shell and others have been doing this for decades.


Oil companies have been at the forefront of pushing for CDM projects for the utilization of oil-associated gas, mainly in the form of avoidance of flaring. A typical feature of the process of oil extraction is the subordinate position of host communities. This causes conflicts that led groups in the Niger Delta to take up arms against the state and oil companies between the late 1990s and 2009 The CDM projects are not a solution to such conflicts, on the contrary.


4.1 Gas flaring at Kwale, Niger Delta, Nigeria


Source: Ebriador Kentebe


The residents of the Niger Delta are neither beneficiaries from the profits of CDM projects nor able to extract concessions from the companies’ facilities (such as reliable electricity, hospitals, good drinking water, education). The problems are evident in the case of Kwale-Okpai and Asuokpu/Umutu gas recovery and utilization CDM projects – whose very existence is decried by environmental justice activists in the Delta, since what companies are being rewarded for, reduced flaring, is in any case illegal.

The Kwale-Okpai CDM project is in Ndokwa land in Delta State. The clan is made up of three local government areas, namely, Ukwuani, Ndokwa-East and Ndokwa-West. This suggests the vastness of the area in which the common language is Kwale. Being mainly peasant farmers and fishers by occupation, the land, forest and water as well as the rich biodiversity have remained precious and indispensable for their survival. The oil industry has done great damage to the environment and its resources. And like many communities in the Niger Delta, the community is without a hospital, electricity, schools and good roads to compensate for the damage done to the environment.

Out of five Nigerian CDM projects already registered with the UNFCCC, two are for the recovery of associated gas that would otherwise be flared at Kwale, Delta State and recovery of marketing gas that would otherwise be flared at Asuokpu/Umutu Marginal Field Nigeria. The projects are claimed to have annual gas emissions reductions of 1,496,934 and 256,793 equivalent of CO2 metric tonnes respectively.[1]

As early as 2006, when then president Olusegun Obasanjo announced in Washington that the avoidance of flaring of gas by oil companies would be counted as CDM investment projects, it attracted the anger of the environmental justice movements.[2] Not only was there inadequate consultation in the affected communities, for leaders were only casually told that at some point a project would bring electricity to the community through the CDM. Yet more irksome is that fact that these CDMs represents a substantial reward provided to oil companies for mitigating an activity which they should not be doing in any case. As Environmental Rights Action (ERA) activist Asume Osuoka argued, ‘Gas flaring is a criminal activity the culprits of which should not be able to profit from. Oil companies in Nigeria can end gas flaring profitably without CDM credits. Those that need compensation are the community victims and not corporate culprits as the Nigerian authorities are suggesting.’[3]


Rewarding illegality


Experts across the world have confirmed the inequity and corruption of the legal system implied in this arrangement. According to Peter Roderick from Britain’s Climate Justice Project, ‘In our view, the acceptance of an associated gas flaring project in Nigeria as a CDM project cannot be justified. If CDM credits were to be granted in respect of activities that are violations of human rights, this would also bring the CDM process into disrepute.’[4] From the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, Daphne Wysham agreed, ‘This proposal by Nigeria should be regarded as a fraud by the CDM methodology board… to tell companies they will be paid for doing something they should have done decades ago by law is to encourage corporate abuse everywhere.’[5]

Although awareness about climate change is currently inadequate and not well spread in grassroots organisations, the environmental justice movement in Nigeria rejects the argument that CDM projects in oil and gas will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As Nnimmo Bassey argues:


The Nigerian government’s embrace of CDM projects means mortgaging the country’s future energy sovereignty and ability to compete in energy production and supply equations in the future. It also gives approval to the continued pumping of greenhouse gases (from burning oil) into the atmosphere, thus deepening the climate crisis.[6]


Many critics object to this rewarding of today’s unethical corporate practice of gas flaring in violation of Nigerian law. Gas flaring was outlawed in 1984 through legislation and amended subsequently, most recently through the Gas Flaring Prohibition and Punishment Bill of 2009. Despite these efforts, about 18.9 billion cubic meters of gas is flared annually in Nigeria, nearly 20 percent of the world’s total. Conservative estimates put the contribution of CO2 by the Nigerian oil industry at 45 million tonnes/year. A recent report released by ERA/Friends of the Earth argues that it is unethical to pay oil companies to end gas flaring which ought to have been complied with several years back.[7]

Moreover, based on studies carried out by the organisation’s researchers, the report argues that even on its own terms, the claim of potential reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from gas recovery CDM project in Kwale, Delta State has failed.[8] In the case of the Pan Ocean project, the project design document claims capture of 75 million standard cubic feet of gas daily at Ovade-Ogharefe oil field, but it is difficult to assess the validity of claims of 98 percent success in emission reductions when monitoring reports do not provide actual levels of oil production within a definite period of review. Only by knowing the level of production, can one logically calculate standard cubic feet captured daily since the common approach in the oil sector is that a barrel of oil is associated with about 1000 standard cubic feet of gas.[9] ERA argues that actual emissions reduction in this case was up to 60 percent less than what is contained in the project design. As reported, 309,907 tonnes of C02-equivalent emissions was recorded instead of 754,282. This gap speaks volumes about the efficacy of the rationale of carbon trading.

The Kwale CDM project is jointly owned by the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (20 percent), Phillip Oil (20 percent) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC 60 percent). Environmental Rights Action insists that they have failed, as has Shell, which currently has a non-CDM gas recovery and utilization project in Afam – in their claim of extremely high CO2 emissions reductions, employment creation, transfer of technology and sustainable development through these projects in Kwale. Instead, Shell recorded a 30 percent increase in emissions in 2010. Explaining this failure, ERA and other researchers question whether these companies use associated gas or cheaper non-associated gas in their gas recovery and utilization projects. The continuing drops in the price of carbon in the international emissions markets, as  explained in previous chapters, may also be a factor in the use of cheaper non-associated gas in gas utilization projects. If this is true, then it is another dimension to the deceit behind Nigeria’s oil and gas CDM projects.

Shell has announced its intention to upgrade its gas recovery and utilization project in Afam to a CDM project shortly, and is also at an advanced stage for securing CDM status for a similar project in Adibawa, Joinkrama in the Niger Delta. For both projects, Shell claims in its Project Design Document (PDD) to have the potential for sustainable development of local communities with regards to social, economic and environmental improvement. If registered as expected, Shell will gain an additional $7,799,508 in revenues over a 10-year period from a project which ought to have been in existence and paid for as part of internal Shell extraction costs, since gas flaring was banned almost 30 years ago.


Ongoing community suffering


The need to ban gas flaring relates to broader climate change considerations as well as local public health. However, contrary to expectations, Kwale communities are still confronted with the regular flaring of gas. As ERA argues, ‘CDM projects in fact create perverse incentives for oil companies to continue gas flaring ad infinitum and as would be apparent later stultify implementation of relevant laws.’

It is noteworthy that even the claim of potential poverty alleviation or positive socio-economic impact within the community of the project appears to be a gimmick. Only a handful of the people have gained employment in the main CDM projects. The heat and noise from the flaring of gas has not been reduced. And in both Kwale and Shell’s Afam reinjection project, electricity supplies which these gas utilization projects are expected to improve have, for neighbouring communities, remained deplorable. More than 80 percent of rural dwellers are not even connected to electricity lines, and if the projects generate electricity, this benefits primarily the wealthier urban communities within Nigerian cities.

As Kwale-based writer Majirioghene Bob argues:


When the people of Kwale fetch water from the rains, the containers they use collect oil residue as well as contaminated water. All the fish in Kwale and Uzere are gone, something that is reflected in one of the stories, Common Identity, in my new book, Deep Sighs. The air around the oil facility in Kwale is putrid and dank. Politically, the major oil companies supposedly championing CDM issues were actively involved in arming fratricidal warfare between communities, and fighting with groups opposed to the devastating effects of their activities in the Niger Delta, particularly in Kwale, Ogoni and Uzere. As for environmental-economic issues, the oil companies together with officials of the UNFCCC and the Nigerian government of that time were playing all sorts of games with the CDM as it affects these communities.[10]


The traditional ruler of the Kwale community, Chief Emeka Uwaka, warned in the Daily Independent newspaper of Lagos, of continued criminal neglect of Kwale’s socio-economic needs.[11] For example, six years after the CDM process began, no community in Kwale has been connected to electricity. The traditional community demand is for at least 50 MW of electricity in compensation for regular gas flaring and the heat associated with it that they have suffered. Even pressure from the presidency – both Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua[12] and his successor Goodluck Jonathan – and the National House of Assembly have failed. Neither NAOC nor the government’s electricity company, Power Holding Company of Nigeria, have yet connected electricity to these communities in spite of CDM promises. In the meantime, huge financial benefits have accrued to the shareholders and managers of these companies and to the Nigerian government – at the expense of Niger Delta communities.

In sum, the oil-related CDM projects in Nigeria have no prospects for success given the context in which they have been initiated. Such projects are characterized by fraud, exclusion, the destruction of natural habitats, and the degradation of the livelihoods of local communities, and of soil and water resources. For these reasons, Nigeria’s leading environmental advocacy group, Environmental Rights Action and its allied community organisations are providing leadership against the oil companies, the government and the CDM process.


4.2 Ogoni community protest against oil companies





[1]. By way of comparison, a third CDM project, Efficient Fuel Wood Stoves for Nigeria, is tiny, involving import of about 12,500 fuel efficient stoves from a German manufacturing firm and will result in annual greenhouse gas emissions reductions of just 31,309 equivalent C02 metric tonnes. This project has been criticized for importing stoves which could easily have been produced locally.

[2]. Carbon Trade Watch, ‘Groups slam Nigeria’s submission of gas flare reductions for carbon credits’, Amsterdam, 29 March 2006.

[3]. Now an academic at York University in Toronto, Osuoka was at the time working for Environment Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

[4]. htt://

[6]. Nnimmo Bassey, ‘Foreword’, in Mired in a Fossil Trap, the Nigerian CDM Report, Benin City, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, May 2011.

[7]. Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Mired in a Fossil Trap, the Nigerian CDM Report, Benin City, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, May 2011

[8]. Ibid.

[9]. Ibid.

[10]. Majirioghene Bob is an independent researcher in Kwale, Delta State. He sent the note in quotation via email to me during the research that produced this paper, on 26 October 2011.

[11]. Francis Onojiribholo, ‘Kwale Chief laments plight of communities’, Daily Independent, 16 August 2011.

[12]. The president instructed then Minister of Petroleum Resources to respond to a letter of complaint by the people of Kwale dated 13 November 2009.