A photograph of a person sitting beside a river. They are holding out their hand to show it is covered with oil from the polluted river.

Nigeria to Morocco: A Pipeline To Disaster

In 2016, a year after Nigeria signed a pledge to reduce emissions by 20% from business as usual levels by 2030, Morocco and Nigeria signed a partnership agreement for a new gas pipeline.

In 2016, a year after Nigeria signed a pledge to reduce emissions by 20% from business as usual levels by 2030, Morocco and Nigeria signed a partnership agreement for a new gas pipeline. This was despite vehement rejection by national, regional, and international NGOs and EJOs due to the environmental and socio-economic impacts of the project. The pipeline’s capacity is expected to be about 3 billion cubic feet per day.

The Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline will be a 5,600km infrastructure project traversing 13 countries, including Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania and Morocco. It is due to be completed in 2046, shortly before the 2050 milestone in climate change identified in the low carbon transition agenda by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The pipeline project is now in the second phase of its front-end engineering design (FEED) study, and the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) plans to contribute US$14.3 million to fund this phase.

The US$25bn project, when completed, will provide gas from Nigeria to the West African countries up to Morocco and subsequently to Europe. The Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) and the Moroccan National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) have now signed the Memorandum of Understanding for the commencement of construction of the pipeline . In addition, Morocco and Nigeria concluded similar agreements with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Mauritanian state-owned oil and gas company Hydrocarbons Company (SMH) and the Senegalese national hydrocarbon group Petrosen, which are also expected to join the project.

Nigeria is a country that has already suffered devastating social and environmental impacts from the production of oil and gas by multinational companies. The Niger Delta has seen more than 12,000 oil spill incidents from 1974-2014. It is estimated that, during that time, 40m litres of crude oil spilt into the Niger Delta each year. An investigation by Amnesty International found the Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell and the Italian oil company Eni are responsible for most of the spills in the Niger Delta.

Oil spillage in the Niger Delta (Wikimedia Commons).

Nigeria has the largest economy and population of any country in Africa and is a major cultural influencer, yet it has the highest rates of energy poverty in the world, suffers from chronic power cuts and is in the midst of a long-term energy crisis. More than one in three people in Nigeria do not have access to electricity. Stephane Gompertz, French climate diplomat for the region, said ‘It is a pity, Nigeria is a country which has great potential in renewable energies. So, Nigeria should set an example for other countries’. 

In its recent Covid-19 economic recovery plan, the Nigerian government pledged to fix its worsening energy crisis through the rapid expansion of solar power. The plan aimed to bring solar power to 5m households by 2023. The project was meant to be aimed at ‘rural communities that have little or no access to the national grid’ and create 250,000 jobs, but hardly any progress has been made on this pledge. Analysts say that Nigeria ‘has abundant sources of renewable energy but lacks the adequate government banking to harness these resources for electricity power’. 

Carroll Muffett, the president of the Center for International Environmental Law, warned that oil majors were ‘racing to open massive new oil and gas frontiers from South America to southern Africa, asking governments and people across the global south to gamble their futures on fossil fuels when it is clear that fossil fuels have no future’.

If completed, the recovery plan would mark a shift towards ‘decentralised energy’ in Nigeria. (Decentralised energy is generated off the main grid and produced close to where it will be used rather than at a large central plant.) Several reports have found that such community-based renewable energy schemes could be the cheapest and most efficient way for Nigeria to address its large electricity gap, particularly in rural areas.

Experts have been warning since at least 2011 that most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves could not be burned without causing catastrophic global heating, yet huge oil and gas expansion is planned to start in the next seven years.

In May 2021, a report from the International Energy Agency, previously seen as a conservative body, concluded there could be NO new oil and gas fields or coalmines if the world was to reach net zero by 2050. The IPCC states carbon emissions must fall by half by 2030 to preserve the chance of a liveable future, yet they show no sign of declining.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, said: ‘Fossil fuel interests are now cynically using the war in Ukraine to lock in a high-carbon future.’

This pipeline to service those plans locks Nigeria into a high carbon future.

President Buhari said ‘On climate change Nigeria stands resolutely with the international community in observing agreed carbon emission targets which I signed in 2015.’, yet this pipeline project is completely incompatible with those goals – to actually reduce emissions to a level consistent with 1.5°C Nigeria needs to decarbonise its economy and will require international support to do so. Historically, fossil fuels have benefited more from subsidies and incentives than the renewable energy industry in Nigeria.

The 2017 Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) classifies Nigeria as a region of high risk, and indicated that the country is one of the topmost vulnerable countries in the world.

Companies currently involved in the project: 

The Australian engineering company WorleyParsons Limited has been contracted to carry out this second phase of the design, managed by Intecsea BV, WorleyParsons offshore engineering consultancy business in The Hague, Netherlands. 

The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and Land Acquisition Studies (LAS) will be delivered by the WorleyParsons team in London, UK. WorleyParsons Limited also have offices in Africa and Hyderabad, India. Project management consultancy services for the FEED second phase have been awarded to ILF Consulting Engineers and joint venture partner DORIS Engineering.

Lekeh Development Foundation
Lekeh Development Foundation
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