Oil firms in Nigeria lobby for 2010 gas-flaring deadline
Multinational oil companies operating in Nigeria have launched a quiet lobby to get the Federal Government to further
extend the deadline for ending gas flaring to 2010. The original deadline given to the oil companies was January 1,
2008, but the deadline, as alleged in National Assembly circles, was extended from January 1 to December 31, 2008
through "underhand" tactics.
But the Senate, through its Committee on Environment, has set in motion the machinery to counter the lobby which it considers worrisome. Also the Senate Committee on Gas plans to meet with President Umaru Musa Yar' Adua on the issue.
Already, the Senate Committee on Environment, under the Chairmanship of Senator Grace Folashade Bent, has summoned
the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Alhaji Abubakar Lawal Yar'Adua to
appear before it to explain why the decision to extend was taken without National Assembly input.
The Senate Committee move came on the heels of feelers that some officials of the Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR), allegedly acting under the influence and in connivance with the oil companies, might have made possible a Federal Government pronouncement that gas flaring would end on December 31, 2008. The December 31, 2008 deadline was contained in a speech read by President Yar'Adua at a Gas Stakeholders Forum held at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja last year.
There were allegations that the new deadline was imposed by some top officials of the DPR in the calculation that
once announced by the President, it would be taken as government's new position on the issue. It was learnt that the
breather that was secured through the backdoor without consultation with the National Assembly was to give more time
to the oil companies to intensify their lobby for further extension of the deadline to 2010.
The oil companies will intensify the lobby on the Presidency, but will seek to secure greater understanding from members of the National Assembly who have constitutional responsibility of oversight on the oil sector as well as power to make and amend laws regulating operations in the sector.
But the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment, Senator Grace Folashade Bent said in Abuja that as far as
the Senate was concerned January 1, 2008 remained the deadline to end gas flaring in the country. Bent disclosed that
her Committee had already summoned the NNPC GMD to appear before it to explain why they had to take such a decision
without consultation with the National Assembly.
She said the NNPC GMD was to have appeared before the Committee but he pleaded with the Committee to allow him attend a board meeting that had already been scheduled before he received the Committee's invitation. Bent said that the Committee had rescheduled the NNPC boss's appearance before the Committee.
She stated that it was embarrassing to read in the newspapers that the deadline to end gas flaring had been extended
to December 31, this year.
According to her, "But the date we know is January 1, 2008. We are not aware of the extension to December 31, 2008. It is very embarrassing. I have always held the position that even if you extend the deadline to 2050, these oil companies will say they are not ready. This is indeed worrisome. We in the Senate Committee on Environment, and this goes for the Senate, believe that the December 31, 2008 deadline should be done in consultation with the National Assembly. We know January 1, 2008 as the deadline; we are not aware of any extension."
Meanwhile, Civil Society leaders and community representatives have petitioned the National Assembly, asking for a
legislation compelling oil companies and the government to end gas flaring in 2008. In a public memo, endorsed by 13
organisations, the groups said previous deadlines set for gas flare-out was disrespected because they were not
legally binding. The groups described this new extension as "distressing", saying promises by previous governments
since the 1970s to halt gas flaring has been brokenagain and again.
"Even the 2005 Federal High Court ruling declaring gas flaring illegal does not seem to count. Shell and the other oil giants have continued with this dangerous practice while government looks the other side, imposing a small fine which the companies prefer to pay. As it were, communities in the Niger Delta are the biggest losers in this disgraceful act," they said.
According to Isaac Osuoka, Director of Social Action, "the 2008 flare-out date was yet another concession to oil
companies operating in Nigeria. The Nigerian government and national assembly must confront the impudence of the oil
companies by legislating on the 2008 deadline for gas flaring. We cannot continue to toy with the lives of our
citizens or condone the wastage of our national energy assets".
The groups comprised Social Action, Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Benin River Forum, Niger Delta Women for Justice (NDWJ), Stakeholder Democracy Network, Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities, Centre for Human Rights, Environment and Development, Ogoni Solidarity Forum, Egi Forum, and the United Action for Democracy (UAD).