Jun 27 2009

Nigeria’s chance to stop gas flares

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 11:28 AM

Ever since traveling for 10 days in the Niger Delta seven years ago, I’ve been haunted by the tragedy of Nigeria’s wasted natural gas. Gas is plentiful in the Delta but human failures have resulted in this precious gas being flared — burned above ground to the harm of the people living around it. The Western oil companies — Shell and Chevron mainly — who have rights to the gas have long claimed it is uneconomical to capture this gas and market it via pipelines. Instead, these companies have burned this gas above ground, causing fires the harm the environment — and keep burning all day and all night, giving parts of the Delta an otherworldly quality.

Enter Russia’s energy behemoth, Gazprom, which this week announced a significant deal with the government of Nigeria. The deal will create a new partnership that hopes to reduce gas flaring — and harvest the gas (in some form) for human use.

Russians have little history in West Africa. The Cold War gave the Russians a good deal of incentive to put stakes into Central and Southern Africa, but West Africa — the most densely populated part of the sub-Saharan — remained out of Russia’s orbit. Predictably, the announcement of the Russian-Nigerian deal ignited complaints from Europeans about another attempt by Russia to further dominate a gas market it already monopolizes. The thinking in Europe is that Gazprom will market the gas to Europe, perhaps in liquid form.

An interesting aspect of this deal is that Gazprom would replace Shell as the oil-and-gas exploiter in “Ogoniland,” the ancestral homeland of the Ogoni people and an area of the Delta made infamous by the execution of the great Ogoni writer and activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa. If Gasprom does indeed replace Shell on the ground, a sad chapter in the history of independent Nigeria will come to a welcome end.

Whether Russians provide a better deal for the Ogoni than the Anglo-Dutch have remains to be seen of course. But for Nigerians, the deal makes great sense and is a victory of the country’s beleagured national government. Now the hard work of making Gasprom’s plan a reality must begin.

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