Beaten by all sides

Fence-line communities suffer great impacts from energy production activities. This is very stark in communities where oil is extracted in the Niger Delta. Natural gas associated with crude oil extraction is burned in inefficient and highly injurious infernos on a continuous basis. This routine flaring has been declared an illegal activity by a high court in Nigeria and the Nigerian Senate is making efforts to formally outlaw it, probably because both the oil corporations and the government have ignored the court order. This flaring wastes US$15 million worth of gas daily, pumping massive quantities of greenhouse gases as well as toxic substances into the air. There is no breath of fresh air near these flares. They cause asthma, bronchitis, cancers and blood disorders. They also pour acid rain on the land, vegetation, buildings and the people (Conant and Fadem, 2008). These communities suffer all of these impacts and more, but have no electricity and no benefits whatsoever from the oil and gas being produced and/or wasted in their communities.

Over 100 flare sites in the Niger Delta belch 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere annually. Through flaring, Nigeria lost an estimated US$72 billion in government revenues for the period of 1970 to 2006, or US$2.5 billion annually (ERA, 2008b).

In South Africa, communities living near refineries are severely affected by the toxic fumes and chemicals released from them. In some of the communities, especially the ones in South Durban, it is difficult to find a family without at least one person having a severe respiratory disease.5 Conflicts with local communities here are a daily reality as people struggle for an illusive breath of fresh air. These conflicts are not limited to locations in Africa. They are replicated in Ireland over Shell's pipelines, in Myanmar over Total's pipeline and in refinery fence-line communities in the US.

One other way for oil companies to attempt to douse energy conflicts is by ensuring local ownership of (or buying off) the local community. However, the provision of school blocks and clinics has not been effective in resolving conflicts. One community activist made a poignant remark when he said that he would rather stay healthy than endure pollution and stay sick in a well-equipped hospital.

Communities affected by oil extraction in Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere across the world are asking questions. A web of resistance is building up. A movement is growing demanding that crude oil be left in the ground as a technology-free, direct and effective means of carbon sequestration and as a real contribution towards fighting climate chaos. They want to know why oil should still be drilled in their land when the process and the resource are poisoning their lands, waters and atmosphere. They want to know why they must live with the oil spills, gas flares and the moral, economic and social dislocations that trail the industry. They want to know why they must be silent in the face of serious deforestation caused by the oil industry and in the face of toxic chemicals from refineries. They are asking that the crude oil be left in the ground where it rightly belongs.

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