Oil Change International

Exposing the true costs of fossil fuels

Why Iraq Should Remember Saro-Wiwa

Just over twelve years ago, the Ogoni activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa was murdered by the military junta in Nigeria for campaigning against the ecological destruction of his homeland and for asking for a greater share of the oil wealth.

Twelve years after his death, the Niger Delta remains in deep trouble. As Reuters reported this week “A wave of violence targeting Nigeria’s oil facilities shows no sign of abating and may get worse, analysts and security experts say.”

The main target for Saro-Wiwa’s campaigning had been the oil giant Shell that has been extracting oil in the Delta since the late fifties.

Saro-Wwia accused the oil giant of polluting his beloved homeland and of operating to double standards, and of “genocide” towards his people. He wrote passionately about the polluted water courses, and the constant gas flaring that roared in the African night.

For over fifty years Shell has flared gas, as it was cheaper to flare it than use it. The ecological and human damage of this policy is incalculable. The company has ignored government law and law, and court order after court order to continue to flare and poison the African sky. To Ken and the people of Africa, Shell was and remains a climate criminal.

But suddenly big oil is being seen as the saviour of Iraq. It has taken some time in coming, but big oil’s defenders are now fighting back. Take the recent post by Marianne Lavelle, a senior writer for U.S.News & World Report.

In an article entitled “How Big Oil Could Help on Climate Change in Iraq” she talked about the needless gas flaring in Iraq and wrote about Shell’s master natural gas plan for Iraq.

Lavelle wondered “What if Big Oil’s moves in Iraq include addressing the fuel waste and needless climate burden of gas flaring? Even if the oil companies’ eyes remain on the prize of profitable oil production sharing agreements, the beneficial outcome of capturing natural gas—a cleaner fuel than the oil that Iraq now uses to generate most of its inadequate electricity—is something that has to be considered. I’d be interested in what people who care about climate change, energy supply, and the role of oil companies in the world think about the problem of putting out these fires in Iraq.”

My response would be to look at Nigeria and the lessons from there, because some fifty years after they started operating the oil companies have not put out the flares there. Back in 1992, Ken Saro-Wiwa wrote in his book Genocide in Nigeria: “As a final mark of their genocidal intent and insensitivity to human suffering, Shell and Chevron refuse to obey a Nigerian law which requires all oil companies to re-inject gas into the earth rather than flare it. Shell and Chevron think it cheaper to poison the atmosphere and the Ogoni and pay the paltry penalty imposed by the government of Nigeria than re-inject the gas as stipulated by the regulations”.

The lesson from Nigeria is one of ruthless exploitation and horrendous degredation. When people protest against Iraq’s Oil Law over the next few says, I am sure Saro-Wiwa will be with them in spirit, because it is a law that protects Big Oil above the people and the environment. And the lessons of Nigeria have not been heeded…

Comments (1)

  1. Great, great post Andy. Thanks.

    On the subject of gas flaring, here’s a sneak peek at something we’re working on here at Oil Change:

    “In Iraq, experts say, the amount of gas flaring appeared to be related to the US invasion in 2003, citing an increase in 2004 to 8.3 billion cubic meters, up from 6.7 billion the year before. Since 2004, the amount of flaring has decreased slightly, but still remains roughly double the amount from 1995, during the early years of sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s government.”

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