Big Oil Companies Divested From Their Nigerian Holdings. Did That Increase Emissions?

There have been unexpected repercussions

Gas flare at Shell Cawtharine Channel, Nembe Creek in the Niger Delta in 2013.
Gas flare at Shell Cawtharine Channel, Nembe Creek in the Niger Delta in 2013.

What happens when a series of events intended to be environmentally friendly instead have the opposite effect? Over the last decade and a half, a number of prominent oil companies have divested themselves from their holdings in Nigeria, a country that’s been at or near the top of the list of Africa’s top oil producers. In theory, this looked like a way for these international companies to reduce their overall pollution. In practice, however, it’s contributed to an alarming increase in pollution in and around Nigeria.

Last year, The New York Times chronicled the aftermath of Royal Dutch Shell divesting itself from a Nigerian oil field. Unfortunately for anyone living near the oil field in question, the local provider who took it over had a more relaxed approach to the environment. Royal Dutch Shell could accurately state that it had less of an impact on the environment, true — but conditions on the ground when they left were worse than before.

A more recent report from The Washington Post also digs into the effects of Shell withdrawing from Nigeria. The Post quotes Nembe resident Lambert Ogbari, who told the newspaper that he’d initially been happy to see a local company taking over for Shell. Since then, he told them, “it has gone from bad to worse.”

The US Wants It Both Ways in the Oil vs. Climate Fight
A new IPCC report urges immediate cuts to fossil fuels, but the Biden administration just approved the sweeping Willow drilling project

In its reporting, the Times cited a sobering report from the Environmental Defense Fund. Among the case studies in that report was the 2021 transfer of a site in the Niger Delta from Shell, TotalEnergies and Eni to Trans-Niger Oil & GAS. The three companies doing the transferring had targets in place for methane emissions and flaring; Trans-Niger Oil & GAS did not.

The report goes on to note that “stewardship-at-risk transfers can worsen near-term warming.” And what’s good for one company’s specific goals might not have the wider interests of the communities around it — or the planet as a whole — in mind.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.