A $400 Million Pipe Dream:
The West African GasPipeline Project
by Leslie Fields
Friends of the Earth newsletter,
"We pray to God on this holy morn
that no petroleum oil will be discovered in our communities. Indeed,
Lord, let the oil underneath our houses and farms drift away from
us. Lord, spare us the pains and the misfortunes and diseases
that petroleum oil brings to our people and to our farms and rivers.
Lord, protect us from further harm in the hands of those who want
our properties. Amen," prayed a Pastor before a Christian
congregation in Nigeria's Niger Delta.
I traveled through Nigeria and witnessed
the human and environmental devastation powerful multinational
oil corporations have caused in the Niger Delta. Communities living
in poverty coexist with numerous one-story high furnace-like gas
flares, the equivalent of a smokestack shooting out a giant flame.
Leaky and exploding pipelines crisscross neighborhoods. Communities
deal with persistent air and water pollution, along with countless
trucks and tankers. These communities live with the oily muck
and detrimental health effects yet are subject to frequent periods
where no gas is available domestically due to the country's lack
of refining capacity.
The West Africa Gas Pipeline (WAGP) had
its genesis 21 years ago when the Economic Community of West African
States proposed a natural gas pipeline through West Africa as
one of its key economic policies. The World Bank prepared a feasibility
report 11 years ago and determined that a natural gas pipeline
originating from Nigeria to Benin, Togo to Ghana would be commercially
feasible. And just now, the consortium of oil corporations and
World Bank are deciding to "consult" with the local
communities that will be impacted by this 620-mile long pipeline.
The four countries involved, Benin, Togo,
Ghana and Nigeria, have already signed an Inter Governmental Agreement
to align their laws. The oil consortium - comprised of Chevron,
Shell, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Ghana National
Petroleum Corporation, Societe Beninoise de Gaz and Societe Togolaise
de Gaz - has all the agreements and contracts signed and is ready
to complete the project by 2005.
"Agreements have been negotiated
and signed, contracts for the sale of gas have been sealed (or
are about sealed), yet the local people through whose communities
the pipeline will traverse know nothing about the project,"
said Pipe Dreams, a report on the project jointly published by
the Environmental Rights Action of Nigeria, Oilwatch and Friends
of the Earth. "And against local and international laws,
the consortium is yet to conduct an environmental impact assessment
study for the project."
Under the principles of the Rio Declaration
agreed to at the 1992 World Summit on the Environment in Brazil,
impact assessments are required for all projects likely to have
adverse effects on ecosystems. The provisions of the Rio Declaration
were incorporated in the Nigerian Environmental Impact Assessment
Law of 1992, the Ghanaian Environmental Protection Agency Act
of 1994, the Lois Cadre Sur l'Environement en Republic du Benin
enacted in 1999 and the Code de l'Environement en Republic du
Togo of 1998. They have not been implemented for this pipeline.
A further impediment to community participation
is the Nigerian Land Use Decree of 1979, which gives legal ownership
of all land to the government. In other words, oil and gas industry
can take the land without consulting local communities as long
as it is in partnership with the Nigerian government. Industry
would only be required by law to pay compensation for crops and
buildings but not for the use of the land.
According to the World Bank in 1995, Nigeria
flares more gas than any other country in the world. Locally the
excessive gas flaring - a process of burning off excess gas -
causes acid rain (which contributes to decreasing crop yields),
corroded structures and health effects such as respiratory problems.
Globally, gas flaring contributes to global warming due to the
carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases, which are
emitted on a continuous basis.
It is simply not clear how the consortium
intends to utilize the gas via the available information and through
(at time of press) meetings with the World Bank and Chevron. The
few communities that have heard about WAGP are under the impression
the gas will be utilized for domestic use, when instead it is
alleged that the end users will be Ghanaian gold mining corporations.
And the Bush administration has touted the $400 million WAGP as
one of the projects that will contribute to West Africa becoming
a major alternative source for oil and gas to the volatile Middle
East region in the near future.
The WAGP has a myriad of issues. The consortium
companies have disturbing human rights records and project details
are shrouded in secrecy. In March 2000, Friends of the Earth-Nigeria
held a consultation with communities, experts and media from Nigeria,
Ghana and Togo. Chevron was invited and confirmed they would send
representatives but they did not. Nigerian National Petroleum
Corporation was invited to talk to community members and also
did not attend.
"The wetlands and the mangroves that
the pipeline will traverse are universally registered as fragile
ecosystems," the Pipe Dream report says. "For it to
contribute to sustainable development in the sub region, the diverse
ecological zones through which the project will pass deserve to
be protected. This does not seem to be on the agenda of the West
African Gas Pipeline consortium." ...
Leslie Fields is the director of the Friends
of the Earth Global Sustainability Initiative Program, which addresses
issues regarding the intersection of environmental justice and