August 25, 2005 · Few things are more startling about the Niger River Delta than rounding a curve and encountering an enormous flame ahead. Called "flaring," this is the common practice of burning off unwanted natural gas that comes up when drilling for oil. It's a waste and an environmental hazard.
Corruption Clouds Nigeria's Growing Gas Business
August 26, 2005 · Nigeria's next big product may be something it has been burning off for years: natural gas. But in the rush to build a natural gas infrastructure, Nigeria's well-earned reputation for corruption may have touched some American companies
Ibrahim Magu is a Nigerian investigator looking into allegations of corruption that surround the construction of a LNG plant in the country. His office is drowning in paperwork related to his work. He let NPR's Steve Inskeep read key documents there.
Morning Edition, August 26, 2005 · Nigeria's next big product may be something it has been burning off for years: natural gas.
Until recently, natural gas was treated as waste product of the oil recovery process. Now it's a product to be packaged and sold overseas.
Exporting natural gas requires an infrastructure for chilling it to the point where it turns liquid, and then shipping it out of the country.
In the rush to build this infrastructure, Nigeria's well-earned reputation for corruption may have touched some American companies.
A bribery scandal is brewing over the contruction of a $4 billion liquified natural gas (LNG) plant on Nigeria's coast.
Contracts to build the plant went to a group of international companies, inlcuding a subsidiary of Halliburton. Investigators in Nigeria and the United States are looking into allegations that bribes were paid to win the contracts.
The alleged payoffs come in a country that Transparency International ranks as one of the most corrupt in the world.
The rising demand worldwide for oil and gas could transform the finances of many African nations.
Americans worried about energy security might ask if the money will ease the problems of Africa's people, or leave the continent wondering how it all went up in smoke.
Gas Flaring Continues to Plague Nigeria
August 25, 2005 · Few things are more startling about the Niger River Delta than rounding a curve and encountering an enormous flame ahead. Called "flaring," this is the common practice of burning off unwanted natural gas that comes up when drilling for oil. It's a waste and an environmental hazard
Gas flares are common in the Niger River Delta. Oil companies use them to burn off unwanted natural gas. This massive flare is erupting from the ground at a Shell flow station near the town of Odidi.
Shell Nigeria Report
This is a 2004 report published by the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria. This 47-page document provides Shell's view of its activities in the Niger River Delta.
NPR.org, August 25, 2005 · Few things are more startling about the Niger River Delta than rounding a curve and encountering an enormous flame ahead. Sometimes it pours out of a smokestack, which reminds you of an oil refinery. Sometimes it comes straight out of a hole in the ground, which makes you think of hell.
What's really happening is that companies are "flaring," burning unwanted natural gas that comes up when they drill for oil.
"Nigeria accounts for about 25 percent of the world's flaring," J. Stephen Morrisson, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told a Senate committee last year. "It's visible from outer space."
A July 2003 report on Nigeria by the U.S. Energy Information Administration noted that flaring "has not only meant that a potential energy source -- and source of revenue -- has gone up in smoke, but it is also a major contributor to air pollution and acid rain."
An executive for Shell, Nigeria's largest energy producer, pointed out to us that gas burns cleanly. Gas is indeed considered cleaner than other fuels, but a U.S. Energy Department official testified in 2002 that flaring is "generally unhealthy to humans and ecosystems" and produces carbon dioxide, which has been linked to global warming.
Why wouldn't the companies sell Nigeria's gas? Until recently, there was a limited market for gas in Nigeria, and there was no easy way to ship it to market overseas.
Today, that’s changing. It's becoming common for gas to be chilled into a liquid and sent by tanker ship to major markets, including the United States. Oil companies, led by Shell, have invested billions to build a terminal to cool and ship the delta's liquefied natural gas, or LNG. A second LNG terminal is on the way.
Yet it's not easy to stop flaring. Nigeria has ordered oil companies to cease large-scale flaring by 2008. But Shell disclosed in its most recent annual report that it will miss the deadline. Even some progress claimed by Shell is now in question.
Its latest report, titled People and the Environment 2004, claimed that Shell ceased flaring at a location near the village of Odidi. However, when we visited in July 2005, we witnessed flaring in progress. Shortly afterward, we were detained for two hours by gunmen from the Shell facility, who demanded, unsuccessfully, that we surrender our tape and camera film.
When we asked for an explanation from a Shell executive, Chris Findlayson, he said that the flaring we witnessed was a temporary situation made necessary by technical problems.
Deadly Oil Skirmish Scars Nigerian Town
A dispute over who deserved money from an oil company ended with a government attack on the town of Odioma that left the community in tatters.
Morning Edition, August 25, 2005 · In an oil-rich part of Nigeria, there's a town in ruins. Some residents were killed this year, and others made homeless, in a dispute over an oilfield.
Odioma, Nigeria, is a case study of what sometimes goes wrong when Western economies depend on the world's poorest places. Nigeria sends 1.2 million barrels of oil per day to the United States.
The biggest producer, Royal Dutch Shell, has been drilling for decades in the lowlands of the Niger River Delta. Shell's constant problem is avoiding clashes between a modern industry and a traditional society.
The trouble in Odioma started when Shell paid a neighboring area for the right to drill on property that both Odioma and its neighbor claimed.
Then, early this year, an attack on a boat left 11 people dead, some of them government officials. The murders were blamed on a gang from Odioma.
The military sent in a force that regularly puts down unrest in the oil region. When the troops came to Odioma, the murder suspects escaped.
The rest of the town did not. Residents claim another 17 people were killed as the town burned in February.
The government stands by its actions and blames local thieves for the town's destruction.
A larger question is whether the oil industry -- fueled by western demand -- started the chain of deadly events.
Two years ago, Shell consultants said the company was paying for land in ways seen as unfair.
That warning came in a larger report on Shell's security strategy. The report said that several Shell policies contribute to the Delta's violence.
The consultants warned that, without big changes to how the giant company works with the government and the communities of the delta, a discontent delta population could drive Shell out of the oilfields by 2008.
Shell Oil Security Report
This 2003 report was commissioned by Shell and written by outside consultants. Since it was first leaked, Shell has not disputed the document's authenticity, but has said it strongly disagrees with some of the report's conclusions. The copy obtained by NPR appears to have had some language deleted.
His Highness Cabri George Omieh, Igoni the XXI of the Kingdom of Odioma. He says that Shell found oil on land belonging to his community, but paid an adjoining kingdom for the right to drill there.
Walk through the ruins of Odioma with Steve Inskeep as he surveys the town with local leader Noel Igobiri. This unedited audio contains significant stretches of ambient sound.
Navigating Nigeria's Muddy Landscape
This photo taken from space captures the immensity of the Niger River Delta, mile after mile of greenery laced with waterways emptying into the Gulf of Guinea
NPR.org, August 24, 2005 · When your plane breaks through the clouds over Nigeria's Niger River Delta, you look down on what could be paradise -- winding rivers, green fields, and clusters of red-roofed homes. It's a lovely country from 5,000 feet.
After you land, you see that the roofs are corrugated metal, the reddish color is rust, and the houses are jammed together along mud lanes too narrow for a car. Children jump across the open sewers that line many streets, and in certain places the rivers smell like oil.
Nigerians are grappling with the challenge of making their country a little more like the one that appears from 5,000 feet.
The cause is not hopeless. Nigeria has tremendous energy. On a main street in Port Harcourt, the delta's biggest city, it seems that if you picked any three buildings at random, one would be a church, the next would be a bar and the third would be an Internet cafe.
Globalization is opening up a region that had been largely closed off by poverty, bad government and bad roads. When we pulled into a filling station in the city of Yenagoa, the American country song Sea of Heartbreak was blasting over the speakers. It actually took a little work to find Nigerian music for sale. The street hawkers were selling Jessica Simpson CDs and American DVDs. We ate Chinese food, and borrowed an Internet connection from a Lebanese emigre. Cell phone companies, including a South African firm, provide instant (if inconsistent) service in remote areas.
Bill Knight, of the development group Pro-Natura, told us that the Internet is transforming places where messages previously traveled only by boat. Knight is an outsider, a white man who chose to live for years in a Delta town; his business card now calls him "Chief" Bill Knight, a traditional term of leadership and respect. He told us that he senses a gradually improving atmosphere in the delta, though he does not minimize the problems that remain. The oil industry is the chief employer, and it's deeply mistrusted after decades of conflict. Many traditional tribal leaders have been paid by the industry and are discredited.
In some parts of the Delta, armed militias vie for power with the authorities, forcing the military to intervene. In other places, the authorities seem more lawless than militias. Nigerians, including government officials, speak frankly about the problem of corruption.
On the main highway between Port Harcourt and Warri, another major city, some police officers turned checkpoints into private tollbooths. During several trips, on several different days, we saw a number of Nigerians placing tips in the hands of officers.
At one point we were stopped; our driver was told there was a problem with the serial number on one of his car parts. A man with a rifle was put in our car to escort us to a police station. There the driver was taken aside and told that he must pay 20,000 Nigerian naira -– about $140. Our Nigerian companions argued with the police, and we were eventually released.
We also argued our way out of a payoff at the Port Harcourt airport, when customs inspectors said that the recording equipment of our engineer, Kimberly Jones, was subject to an "import duty." Our producer, Jim Wallace, was less lucky as we departed Nigeria from Lagos: an airport security guard said he was guilty of traveling with too much money, and demanded $100 to overlook this alleged problem. The guard gave instructions for how to hand over the money unobtrusively.
At one point I complained to a Nigerian about the police, and he said that I should be more sympathetic. The cops, he speculated, might need to extort money because their bosses had stolen their pay.
His speculation wasn't entirely implausible. This summer, Nigeria's former chief inspector of police has been on trial on corruption charges.
Were we special targets because we were foreigners? Maybe. But I think that, in general, visitors have an easier time of it. Many Nigerians treated us with special care. At one point, in a remote area, a military officer, Brigadier General Elias Zamani, insisted on sending an escort with us. And we knew that whatever trouble we did encounter would be temporary. Many Nigerians know they must deal with corruption and lawlessness every day of their lives.
This doesn’t stop people from speaking out. Nigeria has an active press, and a tradition of letting everyone speak (even if that means that a meeting goes on for hours).
It also has plenty of fearless people. There’s Nuhu Ribadu, the nation's chief anti-corruption investigator. He's a former cop, and when he put the chief inspector of police on trial, he was prosecuting his own former boss.
While we were visiting, a two-page advertisement in a news magazine accused Ribadu of using corruption prosecutions simply to destroy the opponents of Nigeria’s central government. Ribadu shrugged off this accusation.
There’s also Austin Onuoha, a Nigerian with the Center for Social and Corporate Responsibility, or CSCR. His non-governmental organization, which is linked with the Catholic Church, is trying to bridge the divide between oil companies and their desperately poor neighbors in the Niger River Delta. In the process, he has made both sides unhappy.
Over dinner one night, he told us that he had been threatened in the past, but he wasn’t worried. "What’s the worst they can do? Kill me? If they did that, then CSCR would just advertise my job, and somebody else would fill it, and probably do it better."
A Rebel or a Thief? One Man's Niger Delta Claim
Morning Edition, August 24, 2005 · Nigeria produces so much oil that just the possibility of trouble there affects world markets.
Prices first approached $60 a barrel after this summer's threat to the U.S. consulate. Oil first hit $50 last fall after another news item from Nigeria.
That was when a rebel group ordered all oil companies out of the country. Alhaji Dokubo-Asari has become a Nigerian political celebrity, even though he denies being part of Nigeria.
He wants to separate from hundreds of other ethnic groups to form a new country, one with a lot of oil. Asari's far from making that happen. But he's come to personify the fear that Africa's most populous nation could someday break apart.
Asari belongs to an ethnic group called Ijaws. He calls the oil-producing region "Ijawland."
He's a convert to Islam who likes to say that he admires Osama bin Laden. But government officials contend the real fuel of Asari's movement is fuel.
Nigeria's presidential spokesman, Femi Fani-Koyode, says Asari is "bunkering" -- tapping oil pipelines.
But with his threats of violence and call for independence, Asari has become part of a larger debate over the future of the oil region.
Oronto Douglas is an environmental lawyer and state official. Unlike Asari, he doesn't call for independence. But he says anything could happen if the people stay poor.
This summer, Douglas was a delegate to a national meeting about the country's future. The delegates from the Niger River Delta walked out because they wanted a bigger share of the oil money.
Alhaji Dokubo-Asari has become a Nigerian political celebrity with his call to create a new country in the Niger Delta, taking the oil money with it. He sits next to the flag he hopes will one day fly over an independent delta nation.
Oronto Douglas is an environmental lawyer and state official who would like to see more oil money remain in the Niger Delta. He took part in negotiations with the government this summer that attempted to change the formula for sharing oil revenue.
Oil Pits Locals Against Companies, Government
Morning Edition, August 23, 2005 · The American company Chevron faces disruptions -- big and small -- in its Nigeria oil operations on a regular basis.
The company's Escravos tank farm is a collecting hub for oil delivered by pipeline from wells across the delta.
Chevron's neighbors haven't made them feel at home. Protests and attacks often stop the flow of oil.
Residents of in the nearby village of Ugborodo want to see more economic benefit from their rich neighbor. They want more jobs and better schools.
In 2003, ethnic gunmen attacked the pipeline network, shutting the tank farm down for two years.
At a time of growing demand, the ethnic attack on just one company in Nigeria has kept more than 100 million barrels of oil off the world market.
Ethnic leader Bello Obuku says Chevron supports an oppressive government. He says oil companies remind him of a Nigerian general -- one who was executed for aiding and abetting a coup.
Chevron executive Chuck Taylor says the company is now talking to ethnic leaders, and refining the way it spends money on community development
A flame reflects off of the water at Chevron's Escravos tank farm, one of six oil export terminals on the Nigerian coast
Ugborodo village elders opposed the rise of the oil industry decades ago when Chevron's predecessors began drilling. Pa Eghare Wellington Ojogor was a rare community voice arguing in favor of the oil industry. Today he regrets his support for oil.
The Race to Share in Nigeria's Oil Bounty
Morning Edition, August 22, 2005 · The Energy Department says the United States depends on Africa for 18 percent of its petroleum imports. That percentage is growing rapidly. The biggest African producer is Nigeria.
For Nigerians, it's a promising moment. It's also perilous. The fight over who benefits from oil money is going on at all levels of Nigerian society.
Vast oil and gas reserves lie beneath the coastal swamps of the Niger River Delta. It's a desperately poor region with few good roads. And it is less peaceful than it looks.
Oil companies face hostility from gangsters, ethnic militias and even ordinary locals.
International energy companies point out that they've spent millions on Nigerian schools and hospitals. They've also paid billions of dollars in taxes. But that money has a way of disappearing in a country with a reputation for corruption.
Even so, it's good business to stay there as companies scramble across the globe to bolster their proven oil reserves
. Joe Kulu is the manager of a flow station for Royal Dutch Shell. He helps move the oil from pumps across the delta to tank farms that hold crude oil before it is shipped to a refinery.
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