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Gas masked.

In a long-overdue victory for communities in the dangerous and dirty Niger Delta, the Nigerian government has pledged to phase out gas flaring at oil wells, a procedure that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and human health problems.

Every year, oil corporations in Nigeria--the biggest petroleum producer in Africa and the eighth largest in the world--burn off some 24 billion cubic meters of natural gas vented during oil pumping. If the gas were harnessed, it could power a good portion of Africa for a year, including the homes of those nearest the wells who don't have electricity. Halting the flaring would eliminate millions of tons of carbon dioxide emitted during the process, and would reduce the many ailments--such as bronchial, chest, and eye problems--that those in nearby communities suffer.

While Nigerian laws have outlawed flaring since 1979, oil companies have been given exemptions year after year. A recent ban on the practice, announced last year to take effect on January 1, was postponed.

Now Nigerian officials say they are serious about halting the flaring and will bring the practice to a complete halt no later than 2011.

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"We will implement policies to reduce flaring and achieve flare-out as quickly as possible, but we recognize that there are investments to be made and rather than just legislate a new flare-out date ... we want to ensure that whatever date we finally decide on is practicable," says Odein Ajumogobia, Nigeria's oil minister. "We've already imposed regulation that ensures that all new projects will be zero-flare. So it's now the time to try to take out the existing flares."

After years of fighting the flares, local environmental organizations such as Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth-Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) say the 2011 deadline is an insult to people living in the Delta, and that the government should move much faster on the issue. More modern oil facilities typically capture gas instead of burning it, but four years after the Nigerian High Court ruled the practice illegal, Nigeria remains the world's top gas-rarer.

"This government is taking the people of the Niger Delta on a roller-coaster ride and its credibility is surely in question," says ERA/FoEN Executive Director Nnimmo Bassey. "The minister's intermittent public pronouncements on this issue clearly show this administration's lack of political will to enforce the flare-out. We cannot afford another time-buying exercise while our people die from gas flare-induced cancer, pollution of the air, water, and destruction of their livelihoods."

--AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 3/20; JUSTICE IN NIGERIA NOW, 3/16
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Title Annotation:AFRICA; gas flaring at oil wells
Publication:Earth Island Journal
Geographic Code:6NIGR
Date:Jun 22, 2009
Words:422
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