Monday, July 30, 2007

Picking on Nigeria

I guess it's better than picking on China again...last week on Morning Edition, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton (yet another fabulous NPR name) covered the environmental disaster caused by burning natural gas in Nigeria's oil fields. I was surprised to hear that Nigerian natural gas is burned on site in the oil fields rather than being used for energy because the oil coming up is worth so much money that it's not worthwhile to separate and transport it. The fires created are actually visible by Satellite (they actually specified that you can see the fires in Google Earth and there's a picture on the NPR website, but of course you could use any company's satellite viewing technology). Why is this a problem?
  1. It causes more carbon emissions than any single source in the rest of Africa.
  2. Natural gas flares worldwide account for more emissions than all the Kyoto treaty projects will prevent combined.
  3. Nigerian villages nearby are poverty stricken and have no electricity, even though their natural resources are being used. Nigeria in general suffers from energy shortage.
  4. The nearby villagers are getting sick from the polluted air, and the heat is killing their crops.
  5. All that energy is being wasted - the World Bank (through wikipedia) says it's enough to supply the entire world with their natural gas needs for 20 days.
So why is this picking on Nigeria rather than just alerting us to a serious environmental issue? Well, there are two reasons:
  1. In the piece, Ms. Quist-Arcton devoted one quick sentence to the fact that Russia actually burns more natural gas than Nigeria does. So why aren't we picking on Russia? Surely they have more infrastructure and natural gas pipelines already in place, and getting them to change their habits will have more impact overall
  2. Secondly, Nigeria is one of the few places in the world where they're lowering the amount of gas flaring (they promised to eliminate it by 2008, and although they won't make that target, they're making progress towards it). Again, why not pick on countries that aren't doing their bit?
So there you go, picking on Nigeria. I guess it wouldn't be news if it wasn't picking on someone.

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