Nigerian oil 'worst global warmer'

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SHELL'S operations in Nigeria emit far more of the pollution that causes global warming than Britain's 20 million homes put together, writes Geoffrey Lean. And, newly released figures suggest, flaring gas from Nigerian oil fields run by Shell and other companies are the biggest single cause of global warming.

The figures, which add a new dimension to the row over last month's execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, have been compiled by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The organisation has lobbied Shell behind the scenes for years at the request of a group of environmentally concerned Nigerian scientists. Now it has decided to go public.

The figures show that more than three-quarters of the gas brought up with the oil in Nigeria is burnt off, compared with about 20 per cent in Libya, Iran and Saudi Arabia and 4.3 per cent in Britain.

"Travelling in the area is like flying over Dante's inferno," said Clive Wicks, the head of WWF-UK's international programme. "Wherever you look you see these goddamned flares."

He says that annually the flares emit 34 million tons of carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming, while the oil fields vent about 12 million tons of methane, which have up to 35 times more effect. By comparison, government figures show that the burning of fuel in Britain's homes emits some 23 million tons of carbon dioxide and just 46,000 tons of methane a year. Though Shell is not the only oil company operating in Nigeria it accounts for about half the flaring.

A spokesman for Shell said last week that the company was working on improvements "to renew ageing facilities, and reduce the number of oil spills, the amount of gas that is flared and waste products."

This week governments will meet in Rome to endorse a report from leading scientists which concludes that global warming is already taking place.