Nigeria: Gas-flaring continues to poison the air, kill crops

Posted by Odimegwu Onwumere | 13 May 2017 | 2,333 times

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•Odimegwu Onwumere.

At the 10th Annual Sub-Saharan Africa Oil and Gas Conference held in Houston, Texas, US, recently, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) said that Nigeria lost approximately $850 million to gas-flaring in 2015. Odimegwu Onwumere notes that loss of money, health, energy and environment to gas-flaring -  which pumps up greenhouse gases into the environment, blowing the climate and proroguing everyone at risk - had been going on since 1950s,despite the country’s laws banning the practice by multinational oil companies

At a time in Nigeria when energy demand exceeds supply and where over 80 per cent of the population still live in abject poverty - with 25 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted, 3,500 megawatts of electricity generation, 55 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOE), and about $400 million carbon credit worth emission all lost -  there were suggestions that this major waste of a natural resource could have been turned into money-making development investments. Nevertheless, the ignominious practice of gas-flaring had over the years drawn the attention of the authorities who did little or nothing to arrest the situation. Today, gas flaring has become a monumental waste of resources in Nigeria and making everyone to whimper. The environmental degradation and health effects caused by it are enormous.

In what sounded like a remark aimed at drawing sympathy for Nigeria – or so, the citizens were inundated with echoes from Pat Maseli, Deputy Director/Head, Upstream Department of Petroleum Resources, while at the just-concluded 10th Annual Sub-Saharan Africa Oil and Gas Conference in Houston, Texas, United States, held on April 27-28, 2017, saying that the country lost approximately $850 million to gas flaring in 2015.

It’s amazing how gas-flaring, which the World Bank said was reduced from 172 billion cubic metres a year in 2007, did not go down below 142 billion cubic metres in 2011. The reality is that politics and ‘oil money’ had not allowed Nigeria to be among the countries that the bank had urged in 2011 to reduce flaring by at least 30 per cent in the next five years. This is 2017, and the flogging around gas- flaring still persists, after Nigerian authorities agreed in 2013 to meet 22 per cent of gas-flaring reduction this year.

Politics of gas-flaring

Investigating on this issue the umpteenth time, this writer has exposed that oil and gas companies in Nigeria have not ended gas-flaring because they see zero per cent gas-flaring as a mirage, given the feeble approach government at all levels had exhibited in tackling the debacle.

Nigeria has been flaring gas since the 1950s, especially in the Niger Delta, where Co2 and several pollutants are emitted into the atmosphere at will by the multinational oil companies. But looking for a way to curb this menace, in 1969, Gen Yakubu Gowon as Head of State, allegedly allowed oil operators a five-year ultimatum within which to bring to a halt gas flaring, they but never did.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria, in 2005, described oil-flaring as illegal, having formally banned it in 1984 and declared it “unconstitutional”. Yet, figures show that companies on the delta did not stop, but have only reduced to flaring 10 per cent since 2007.

Expectations by Nigerians were high, but dashed when the December 31st 2012 deadline given to oil exploration companies, by the National Assembly, to end gas- flaring in all the oil fields in Nigeria, was not heeded. But government apologists were either warning that why should there be what they termed “all the noise” about stopping gas flaring in the country, when, according to them, a country like Russia was pinnacling the rest of the world as the highest emitter, upon that she was ranked as a developed country.

“The United States of America, in spite of her technological prowess and commitment to environmental ideals, remain as the world's 5th largest emitter of this poisonous smoke,” the apologists referred to a 2013 source.

Eye-service approach

By Friday, March 25, 2011 the Federal Government had set agenda for ending gas-flaring, and unveiled what was regarded as “ambitious $10 billion gas revolution” and to create 500,000 direct and indirect jobs.

It made this disclosure during the formal launching of the Gas Revolution in the country. So they said, it signed two Memoranda of Understanding (MOU): one, between Xenel and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and the other among India’s Nagarjuna Fertilisers, NNPC and Chevron; as well as the award of the Akwa Ibom/Calabar area gas central processing facility (CPF), to Agip and Oando in Abuja – winners of the bid.

As part of its efforts in ending this illegality, media reports of November 1, 2012 believed that the Federal Government might shut oil fields, even if it meant a loss of revenue. A director at the Department of Petroleum Resources, Mr Osten Olorunsola, apparently said then: “One of the things we are doing is to do some analysis for government, to such an extent that it will even mean a proposal to shut down fields to avert huge gas-flaring. We will probably make that position known to government very soon.”

According to a report in the newspapers on Monday, March 4, 2013, then Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, had said that the country had a “new target” which was not to bring a total end to gas-flaring, but to meet 22 per cent of gas-flaring reduction by 2017, which was characterised as “on the short-term.” This statement came when a report by World Bank showed that gas-flaring continued much to aid climate change, among major oil countries.

Not a serious country?

Former head of state, Dr Gowon, had pointed out in 2011, how Nigeria had lost her leading role in Liquefied Natural Gas production to countries such as Qatar and Australia: “Last year, this country flared over 460 billion standard cubic feet of gas that, if processed and exported, would have fetched the country over $2 billion and minimised the health and environmental impact of gas flares.”

This claim had the support of a Bureau of Public Enterprises’ study, which estimated Nigeria’s losses to gas-flaring at between $500 million and $2.5 billion a year. Gowon noted: “Think of how the oil palm industry left Nigeria for Malaysia. Think of how athletics – we won gold in Sydney (Australia) in 2000 – left Nigeria for Jamaica. And, worst of all, countries we started out with in the LNG business have all left us behind.”

While Qatar’s production had moved from 20 million tonnes to the range of 80 million tonnes and Australia was also targeting 80 million tonnes, Gowon seemingly maintained, Nigeria’s progress was stymied. “All the LNG projects on the drawing board in Nigeria – LNG Train Seven – will only add 30 million tonnes to our national output, which is not that much when compared to Australia, which has only 60 per cent of our reserves.”

Crime against humanity

Second to Russia, Nigeria was said in 2013 that she burnt off an equivalent of USD1.4 billion annually, but this is profoundly in a most contemptuous disregard for laws and judicial pronouncements on gas-flaring.

Responding to the World Bank’s petition, Nnimmo Bassey, director of Lagos-based Environmental Rights Action and chair of Friends of the Earth International, purportedly said: “Gas-flares are nothing short of crime against humanity. They roast the skies, kill crops and poison the air.

“These gas stacks pump up greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, impacting the climate, placing everyone at risk. Gas-flares go on because it is cheap to kill, as long as profits keep on the rise.”

The World Bank’s report said while flaring has been cut by 30 per cent since 2005, $50 billion worth of gas was still wasted annually. “Azerbaijan has cut flaring by 50 per cent in two years, Mexico by 66 per cent, and Kuwait now only flares 1 per cent of its excess gas.

“Other countries, including Qatar and the Democratic Republic of Congo, now use large volumes of previously wasted gas to generate electricity,” noted the Bank, adding that it makes financial and developmental sense.

Quoting Rachel Kyte, World Bank Vice-president for Sustainable Development the report averred: “It’s a realistic goal. Given the need for energy in so many countries – one in five people in the world are without electricity – we simply cannot afford to waste this gas any more.... The direction of travel is right, but whether it is at the speed or pace needed is another matter. But no country now that does not want to wrestle with this issue.”

Sir Suma Chakrabarti, a President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, was cited as saying: “This major waste of a natural resource can be turned into profitable development investments.”

A spokesperson for French oil company – Total, which had committed to bisecting the volume it flared by 2014, said: “Flaring is very stupid, for sure. But stopping it is difficult. We are going in the right direction, but it takes time.” World Bank in the report rated Nigeria as the biggest in gas-flaring in Africa.

Interested in profits

Despondently, the oil companies are much concerned with the hauling out of their products. Left to them, they have no business with the protection of the environment in which they operate. Alternatively, they are much interested in the quantity of produce that will accrue from their onshore or offshore oil-wells, with no recourse to the environmental brunt of burning associated gas from oil-drilling sites.

The exasperating part of this issue is that the companies see flared gas into the environment as waste or unusable, even though they knew that gas-flare, otherwise known as a flare-stack, is cutting the environment into strips. This environmental unfriendly act is against the judgment of legal luminaries, human and environmental rights crusaders across the country.

These groups have declared that the flaring of gas is illegal, no matter the perception of the oil companies in the areas of industrial plants, such as petroleum refineries, chemical plants, and natural gas processing plants.

Experts on environment say that the hazard of flaring gas also constitutes a hazard to human health. They say that gas-flaring contributes to the worldwide anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide.

“For example, oil refinery flare-stacks may emit methane and other volatile organic compounds as well as sulfur dioxide and other sulfur compounds, and toxics... all of which are known to exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems,” a report said.

“Flaring at oil and gas production sites may emit methane, sulfur dioxide, aromatic hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene and xylenes), as well as carcinogens such as benzapyrene,” noted another source.

Way forward

It is believed that since the adopted report of the House of Representatives in 2009 setting December 31, 2012 as the ‘new’ date for the achievement of zero gas flaring in the country failed, experts said that there was still a way out.

They informed about the resolve in that report which the lawmakers made, suggesting that any company that declared an inaccurately flared gas volume should pay a penalty of $100,000, should be re-addressed to bar perpetrators. They appealed that since the House could not meet the mandate, the report of its committees on gas resources and justice on a bill for an Act to amend the Associated Gas Re-injection Act, No.99 of 1979 Cap.A25 laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, should not be spent.

They submitted that the authorities should be strict to submissions made by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, DPR, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Shell Petroleum Development Corporation, Exxon-Mobil Nigeria Unlimited, Total Nigeria, Chevron, Addax, National Agip Oil Company, and Nigeria Civil Society Platform Against Gas Flaring at the public hearing held on March 10, 2009; because, treating this issue with kid’s glove could be the reason the January 1, 1984 deadline to end gas-flaring was substituted with a new date of December 31, 2012, and this is 2017.

•Odimegwu Onwumere, Rivers State-based poet, writer and consultant contributed this piece via:

Source: News Express

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