Continued importation of dirty fuel raises fears
• Experts warn of health, economic consequences
• Ghana beats Nigeria in curbing trend
• ‘NNPC working to meet SON specification’
Millions of Nigerians risk health and economic consequences following Federal Government’s failure to meet deadline on importation of high sulphur (dirty) fuels.A communiqué jointly issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Economic Communities of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Commission, and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) noted that switching to low-sulphur diesel and use of cleaner vehicles would result in annual savings in health costs of about $6 billion in Sub-Saharan Africa.
At the ministerial meeting on promoting low sulphur fuel held in Abuja last year, governments in the ECOWAS sub-region had agreed that all imported fuel should meet 50ppm max, in line with the African Refineries Association (ARA) -AFRI4 specification by July 1, 2017.
Already, neighbouring countries like Ghana, which also signified interest in reversing the trend, has since raised its standards and begun importation of cleaner products.
In late 2016, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire agreed to ban importation of Europe’s dirty fuel, limiting sulphur from 3,000 parts per millions to 50ppm.
But almost a year after, Nigeria has continued to import the commodity to the detriment of its consumers, despite the release of new guidelines on petroleum products by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).
Unless removed, sulphur, a natural component of crude oil, is retained in Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) and diesel. Its presence in petroleum products impairs the effectiveness of emission control systems and contributes to air pollution. The toxic substances in the fuel increase incidences of bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory tract problems, said Consultant Public Health Physician/Epidemiologist and former Chief Medical Director, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Prof. Akin Osibogun.
In fact, a study conducted by the Department of Physics at the University of Port Harcourt in 2012 linked rising cases of respiratory diseases to pollution mainly caused by combustion, especially of dirty fuel. The study analysed epidemiological data collected from the St ate Ministry of Health in relation to ambient air quality data of the state and National Ambient Air Quality Standard data and found that 30,435 disease cases were reported during 2003 to 2008, out of which 61 patients died.
The diseases found to be prevalent in the study area as a result of air pollution were pertussis, pulmonary tuberculosis, cerebrospinal meningitis (CSM), pneumonia, measles, chronic bronchitis, and upper respiratory tract infection (URT).Osibogun said there are formations of oxides of sulphur from the combustion of sulphur. These oxides combine with moisture in the air to form sulphuric acid, a known carcinogenic agent and a respiratory tract irritant.
The presence of high levels of sulphur in fuel reduces their efficient combustion and results in high levels of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides emissions, thus affecting air quality, Osibogun explained. He said: “Acid rain formed from various oxides of sulphur, nitrogen and carbon, contribute to rapid deterioration of housing infrastructure e.g., roofs and paints, in addition to increased health costs and premature deaths.
“Reducing the level of sulphur in fuel attract additional costs and that makes lower sulphur content fuel to appear more expensive. In the long run, however, if we consider the health and environmental effects, lower sulphur content fuel may be cheaper. National economists, environmentalists and health experts have to conduct cost-benefit analyses to arrive at acceptable national standards.”
According to SON, the old standard for Premium Motor Spirit (petrol), NIS 116: 2006, was replaced by NIS 116: 2017. The former NIS 149: 2006 standard for gas oil (diesel) was replaced by NIS 948: 2017. The standard for Household Kerosene (HHK), NIS 141: 2006, was replaced by NIS 949: 2017.
SON said relevant stakeholders were to update their NIS collection by contacting the organisation’s library and documentation centres in Abuja, Lagos and all nearest state offices, to ensure they use the current and correct editions for their products and services.Bola Fashina, head of SON’s public relations, told The Guardian that although the agency had set new standards, it would be a while before enforcement commenced.
“There is need to give importers time to strategise on how to adopt the new standards. A lot of things need to change with the new standards, and this cannot be done overnight.“First and foremost, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) is not statutorily required to set standards on petroleum products in Nigeria. That responsibility is the function of SON,” he said.
DPR head of public affairs, Paul Osu, said: “The DPR only enforces standards issued by SON in our regulatory oversight of the oil and gas industry. Consequently, any new operable standard that has been issued by SON for implementation will be adopted by DPR.”Asked what the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is doing to adopt the new standard, Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Ndu Ughamadu, said: “We are working towards meeting the specifications to ensure only quality fuel is produced in the country.”
High sulphur fuel leads to revenue loss through frequent breakdown of vehicles, said Adeola Adenikinju, Professor of Economics and Director, Centre for Petroleum, Energy, Economics and Law, University of Ibadan.
“The effects on the economy are enormous. Users of cars and machines will have to spend more money on maintenance and replacement. This will result in wear and tear, and economic loss. High sulphur fuel will also lead to environmental pollution and endanger people’s health, leading to low productivity,” Adenikinju added.
Deputy Minister for Energy (Petroleum), Dr. Mohammed Amin Adam, stressed the need for Nigeria to follow Ghana’s footsteps, adding: “The most topical issue being discussed at all levels on the African downstream petroleum industry is the transition to low sulphur fuel. This drive to move from dirty fuel to cleaner alternative has resulted in most countries tightening specifications for gasoline and gasoil. In line with ARA’s AFRI4 specifications, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and a host of other African countries have specified sulphur levels for diesel imported at 50 ppm maximum, with a view to meeting the specification of 10ppm in the medium term.”