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Environmental Group Seeks End to Gas Flaring in Nigeria

A global environmental group has stepped up its campaign to persuade Nigerian authorities to ban gas flaring, which is blamed for environmental degradation and a host of diseases.

Friends of the Earth is leading the month-long campaign against gas flaring in Nigeria.

Friends of the Earth International Executive Secretary Nnimmo Bassey told VOA international pressure could help in forcing Nigeria to make 'a political decision' to stop gas flaring.

"Our principal aim is to stop the practice completely. We want to get the government to wake up to its responsibility and stop the practice which cannot be defended by anybody," said Bassey. "The current phase is, we are seeking global support for people around the world to send petitions to the president as well as the senate president and the speaker of the House of Representatives. Because we believe a political decision is needed."

For decades, gas flaring has been used in Nigeria's petroleum production to separate natural gases from market-worthy crude oil.

Nigeria has the world's seventh-largest proven gas reserves. A recent World Bank statement said gas flaring in Nigeria contributed more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in Sub-Saharan Africa combined. Bassey says gas flaring is responsible for environmental degradation and diseases such as cancer and asthma.

"The health impact on the local communities is much [great] because the gas that is being flared releases a lot of toxic chemicals, including benzene-Chemicals that cause cancer, asthma, bronchitis and skin diseases," added Bassey. "The sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide in the gas also lead to acid rain. We are talking about an enormous amount of gas-greenhouse gas- being released into the atmosphere. Nigeria burns 23 billion cubic meters of gas every year. And the conservative economic value of that is put at $2.5 billion worth of gas every year."

Government officials say gas has the potential to replace oil as the main source of foreign exchange for Nigeria, and the gas being wasted can be put to good use to boost electricity generation.

Nigeria is a leading oil producer in Africa, but generates only three-thousand megawatts of electricity, almost 20 times lower than South Africa, which has about a third as many people as NIgeria.

Nigeria outlawed gas flaring in 1979, planning to completely eliminate it by 1984. But the government failed to act on all previous deadlines to end the practice. Royal Dutch Shell says it hopes to spend $3 billion on plans to reduce gas flaring in Nigeria.