Baru, gas flaring and meaningless deadline
The seemingly interminable saga of gas flaring in Nigeria may at last be coming to an end. The Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Maikanti Baru made this claim at the 50th offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Huston, Texas the other day. However, this should not elicit any fanfare or create undue optimism especially among people from the Niger Delta region who suffer immensely from both oil pollution and gas flaring. This is because, it has been promises upon promises in the over five decades of oil exploration in the Niger Delta region without the Federal Government achieving an end to gas flaring.
Despite the environmental damage to the Niger Delta people and the economic losses government and the oil producing companies chose to constantly shift the goalpost each time a deadline approaches. The December 31, 2010 deadline stipulated that any company found flaring gas after that date would be subjected to a fine not less than twice the international market price of the gas flared. The question therefore, begging for an answer is: Who determines the volume of gas flared as well as the international market price of gas? Is it not the same multinational oil companies? Indeed, that was a one-sided agreement and government, both past and present chose to trade on a penny-wise, pound-foolish penalty game with the oil companies. Baru himself, as well as his Texas audience knew that Nigeria’s government lacks the political will to end gas flaring by 2020. Therefore, the three-point strategy unfolded by him was mere rhetoric, a political statement that may not see the light of day. By the way, what does Baru intend to achieve by bringing the goalpost this closer instead of the 2030 deadline drawn by President Muhammadu Buhari?
Even in the face of factors militating against government’s efforts to see the end of gas flaring by 2030, Baru is thumping his chest and saying that in just two years, gas flaring will be history. Obviously, political statements are easier to make than understanding the realities on ground. For instance, experts believe that, government agencies like the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) lack the capacity to properly monitor the excesses of international oil companies, who continue to violate the law and flare gas even though the activities have been outlawed in developed countries. In defense, however, the oil companies insinuate that the Federal Government which is in joint venture partnership with them is not holding up its end of the stick to eradicate gas flaring. If this is true, why is the government denying being one of the problems?
It is therefore, disdainful and unacceptable that, even at this critical period when the world is making frantic efforts to tackle problems of climate change, Nigeria’s government is yet to put in place necessary incentives and legislative backing as well as infrastructure to end gas flaring and oil pollution. Really, it is shocking to note that before the December 31, 2010 earlier deadline was fixed, Nigeria, in 2008 had become the world’s biggest gas flarer as she flared four times the volume of natural gas burnt by Saudi Arabia. According to the World Bank, the nation accounts for 12.5 per cent of total flared natural gas in the world. It will surprise you to hear that flared gas recently rose from 244.84 billion standard cubic feet (SCF) in 2016 to 287.59 billion SCF in 2017 while gas flare penalty stands at N10 Mscf equivalent to 0.03 dollar. What an insulting fine.
No doubt, gas flaring in Nigeria has continued unabated due to oil companies’ selfish interest and especially their refusal to invest in infrastructure needed to capture the gas and utilize it for other useful and profitable things. It is better and cheaper for the multinational oil companies to flare the gas and pay the miserable fine. Over the years, Nigeria’s government has enjoyed a shower in cowardice and has been dressed up in wisdom of greed for money from gas flaring penalty. Of course, this singular action continues to frustrate infrastructural development to facilitate the realization of an end to gas flaring.
It is also disheartening to learn that the international oil companies operating in Nigeria do not indulge in such gas flaring in their home countries. As far back as 1969, the Federal Government directed oil companies to end gas flaring within five years of business by taking steps to utilize the gas. After a decade of continued gas flaring, government emerged with the 1979 enactment of the Associated Gas Reinjection Act (AGRA) plus the fixing or rather shifting the goalpost to 1984 as the deadline. But, as it were, government betrayed itself and looked the other way by including the option of fine for non-compliance.
And here we are again with Baru’s grandstanding deadline that is highly unrealistic. How sure is Baru that the plan or the strategies he advocated would be backed by law before the end of the year? Taking into cognizance that between now and 2020 is an electioneering period and government will be more focused on elections.
Recently, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola lamented that 90 million Nigerians lack electricity. But, the nation takes pride in emitting all kinds of particulate matters into the atmosphere by flaring gas. Yet, the flared gas can easily power all the needs of the country and save Nigerians from the stagnation and lack of development occasioned by insufficient electricity. No doubt, beyond all these, there are issues of corruption as one of the major reasons behind the continued gas flaring. It is a damming shame that the NNPC which is supposed to regulate and enforce order is not separated from the menace.
A Korean proverb says: “The ground is harder after the rain.” So also is the problem of gas flaring being exacerbated after government collects the miserable gas flaring fines. The devastating effects of gas flaring and oil spill in the Niger Delta should be of great concern to the government because the Niger Delta people and indeed Nigeria as a nation are facing a looming health catastrophy.
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