oil multinational Shell is facing contempt of court proceedings
in Nigeria over gas flaring.
By Richard Black
Environment Correspondent, BBC
Last month, a court ordered the
company to stop flaring gas from oil wells in the country, which
accounts for much of Africa's greenhouse gas emissions.
Shell has not halted the
practice, so campaign groups have initiated proceedings for
contempt of court, which can result in imprisonment.
Shell has appealed against the
initial judgement and denies it is in contempt.
Waste of resources
In November, the Nigerian
Federal Court, sitting in Benin City, ruled on a case brought by
environmental and social groups on behalf of the Iwherekan
community of Delta State.
They argued that flaring
creates significant local pollution and health problems, and is
inherently wasteful of a resource which could bring income to
environmental groups also argue it is a significant source of
greenhouse gas emissions, with flaring in Nigeria perhaps the
biggest source of emissions in Africa.
have been hampered by a recent explosion
The Benin court ruled that gas
flaring amounts to "...a gross violation of [the plaintiffs']
fundamental right to human life and dignity...", and that Shell
and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation had broken
national law by failing to carry out an environmental impact
By failing to stop flaring, as
ordered by the court, campaigners now argue Shell is in
contempt, and have initiated proceedings in the Federal Court.
"Since judgement was passed,
Shell has not halted her illegal activities," said Nnimmo Bassey,
of the Nigerian group Environmental Rights Action.
"We see a
multinational corporation that has no respect for the rule of
law, but who at every turn loves to characterise local people as
vandals and saboteurs."
Earlier this month, an attack
with explosives on an oil pipeline forced Shell to suspend
extraction at two of its wells and delay shipments.
The background to this and
other incidents is the view held by some Nigerian communities
that they do not benefit from oil wealth, with profit going to
"It's astonishing that Shell
has not complied with this court order preventing it from
continuing gross violations of human rights," added Peter
Roderick of the international organisation Climate Justice,
which has been involved with the action.
"Its behaviour seriously
undermines respect for the rule of law that its operations rely
In London, a Shell spokeswoman
said that the company did not believe itself in contempt.
"The Benin High Court went
ahead with its decision despite the fact that Shell Nigeria's
preliminary appeal on jurisdiction was still outstanding," she
told the BBC News website.
"In addition, the company has
made a further appeal because it believes that the court did not
adopt the correct procedure.
"Our appeals will be held by
the Nigerian Court of Appeal; until then, our understanding is
that we are not in contempt of court for continuing to flare
The company says it flares the
gas rather than processing it because there is no local market
and no facilities which could liquefy it for export, though such
facilities are now under development.
Shell and the Nigerian
government have both committed to phase out flaring in Nigeria
In 2004 the World Bank said
that companies operating in Nigeria, which include Shell,
ExxonMobil and Chevron, flare 75% of the gas that they produce.