Nigeria is sticking to a 2008 deadline for oil companies to take measures to stop the flaring of gas as part of their production processes. But the reluctance of oil companies to comply could pose a challenge for authorities.
Top Nigerian officials say the 2008 deadline to stop gas flaring is not negotiable. Stiff sanctions, including the sealing up of oil wells and halting production activities, are being contemplated for companies that do not comply.
Oil companies in Nigeria routinely flare gas in the course of producing and processing oil. Hundreds of gas flares burn day and night in the Niger Delta, filling the sky with soot and toxic fumes.
Nigeria flares more gas than any country in the world. Ledum Mitee, an environmental activist in the Niger Delta, says the flares have contributed significantly to dwindling food production in the region. "If you live close to where the flares are, there is no night. The crops can't pollinate, because the insects that are supposed to pollinate at night, are attracted to the light, and they are all killed. So, there is no way you can expect the food chain to be the same," he said.
Oil companies have been reluctant to stop gas flaring in the past, saying other options are too expensive and unnecessary additions to their operational costs.
Mitee is skeptical the government will be able to enforce the 2008 deadline, noting that previous deadlines have slipped. "The goalpost has continued to change over the years. From 2006, it became 2007, and it became 2008. And even if you look at the last report for Shell, their annual report for last year, they clearly flew a kite that they cannot meet the 2008 deadline. Each time it happened, there is no consequence. Any situation that there is no consequence for violation, that becomes the rule. So they've gotten away with it over time and they will still get away with it," he said.
The Niger Delta is one of the world's largest wetlands, covering over 20,000 square kilometers, of which about six-thousand kilometers are mangrove forest.
Oil companies operating in Nigeria say their activities are conducted to the highest environmental standards. Activists say Nigerian environmental laws are poorly enforced.
Oil spills constitute another source of pollution in the region. Analysts say poverty, induced by environmental problems, is driving the spate of violence in the region.