A $400 Million Pipe Dream:
The West African GasPipeline Project

by Leslie Fields

Friends of the Earth newsletter, Fall 2003


"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 globalization.

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