Weak regulations foist reign of toxin-heavy, low-quality fuel on Nigerians
Most European countries, which export petroleum products to Africa, drive their vehicles on less than 10 particulate matter (PM), but the sulphur content in petroleum products sold on the Africa continent is over 500 PM. The consequences are dire as reflected in growing health burden, environmental issues, and damages to vehicle engines. KINGSLEY JEREMIAH writes on the many implications of this development and possible solutions.
In September 2016, a report launched by the Public Eye, a Swiss organisation, which through its exclusive investigations and in-depth research, shines a spotlight on the ways that companies impact disadvantaged populations, revealed the double standard, which refiners in Europe employ in their refining processes.
Even though these refiners comply with their extant regulation on dirty fuel, they collaborate with oil marketers in Nigeria and other African countries to ship dirty fuel into the region.
The report said the sulphur levels coming into Africa was up to 300 times higher than what is permitted in Europe. Although the United Nations (UN) Environmental Department, in 2018, raised concerns over dirty diesel shipped to West Africa from European ports before the Dutch government, insisting that there was insufficient compliance with processing rules leading to fuel blends that represent a risk to people and the environment, the development failed to abate.
It would be recalled that Nigeria and four other West African countries in reaction to the Public Eye report, agreed to ban the importation of Europe’s dirty fuels, and limit sulphur in fuels from over 3, 000 parts per million (PPM) to 50 ppm. All that came to nought, as the talks were not backed with action.
Laboratory analysis conducted earlier this year by an international resource watchdog group, Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), again revealed that petroleum products refined by illegal refineries in Niger Delta were indeed cleaner than what marketers import into the country.
The SDN research further showed that imported fuel exceeded European Union (EU) pollution limits by as much as 204 times, and by 43 times the level for gasoline. Conversely, the research showed that fuel from illegal refineries in Nigeria only exceeded EU sulphur standards 152 times, and 40 times the level for gasoline.
Shockingly, as Nigerians breathe toxic air occasioned by dirty fuel daily, the country’s sweet crude is one of the lowest sulphur-laced crude in the world. This development, which is detrimental to their health, has been linked to the growing number of asthma, lung, heart and respiratory diseases in the country. Sulphur dioxide from such fuels is also reportedly a major contributor to environmental challenges such as acid rain, which is very harmful to agriculture, infrastructure and natural environments.
Seen by many as a classic case of dumping disused and poor-quality fuels that cannot be sold in any other country on earth in Nigeria and other African countries, this development is a direct violation of the 1979 Geneva Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, especially its 1985 Protocol on the Reduction of Sulphur Emissions.
Historically, the 1979 Geneva Convention started in the 1960s, when scientists demonstrated the interrelationship between sulphur emissions in continental Europe, and the acidification of Scandinavian lakes. And in 1972, the UN’s conference on Human Environment signaled the beginning of active international cooperation to combat acidification.
According to the UN, between 1972 and 1977, several studies confirmed that air pollutants could travel several thousands of kilometres before deposition and damage occur. This increased the agitation that cooperation at international level was necessary to solve problems such as acidification.
The UN, in response to this, held a high-level meeting within the framework of the ECE on the Protection of the Environment and came up with the 1979 Geneva Convention.
In terms of air quality, the UN had ranked Nigeria as one of the worst in the world when it comes to fuel Sulphur content control. Officially, the limit set by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) for fuel sulphur is 150 ppm (petrol). Even though this is still about 15 times higher than the EU standard, marketers find their ways to import worst fuel on the backdrop of weak institutional gaps, such as dearth of up-to-date fuel testing technologies and equipment; inadequate training and capacity development opportunities, and lack of sustained funding incapacitates SON, and other agencies to effectively detect, measure, monitor and enforce fuel quality standards.
This bad scenario is worsened by the lack of refineries that blend clean fuel on the continent. In addition to this, even if the importation of fuel is halted, local refineries are not upgraded to meet the international sulphur standards. The African Union and the African Refiners and Distributors Association have alluded to this and are currently developing a framework for harmonised fuel specs across the continent.
How Imported Fairly Used Cars Worsen Situation
AFRICA has, over the years, constituted itself into a dumpsite for cars that have been outlawed in other developed regions due to environmental and health concerns. Interestingly, the end of life policies, which phased out vehicles in developed countries, became a blessing in disguise for many in Nigeria and other parts of Africa (where economic challenges and the absence of auto finance schemes) to own second-hand vehicles.
In East Africa, for instance, more than 96 per cent of vehicles imported into Kenya are used ones, Africa Business Pages noted, adding that Ethiopia, along with Nigeria, remains one of the largest importers of used vehicles globally.
The United States’ Department of Commerce, not long ago, revealed that Nigeria imported 82,180 units of vehicles from the U.S. in 2018, as against the 48, 899 units that it imported in 2017. The agency disclosed that between 2014 and 2018, the total value of used vehicle imported from the U.S. amounted to $189b. All these cars are pouring into a country with weak regulations for roadworthiness.
Recently, a report by the United Nations Environmental Programme insisted that millions of used vehicles imported into Nigeria from European countries, the United States, and Japan contribute significantly to air pollution. According to the UN report, the vehicles are of poor quality thereby undermining efforts to fight climate change.
To many stakeholders, while dirty fuel poses grave danger to Africa, the use of high sulphur fuel in used, or outlawed vehicles aggravates health and environmental consequences. The UN report released last Monday, stated that most of the vehicles exported from The Netherlands, for instance, are over 20 years old. The report noted that most falls below EURO4, which is the European Union vehicles emission standards.
Health Challenges, Environmental Concern Of Dirty Fuel
DESPITE the tight regulations in countries like the United States, its Energy Information Administration disclosed that in 2018 alone, the total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from aviation and motor gasoline combustion was about 1, 142 million metric tons, or about 22 per cent of total U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is possible for the air that we breathe in to cause cancer because polluted air is coated with cancer-causing substances, which it describes as being carcinogenic to humans.
Medical experts have also insisted that the more we breathe in polluted air, the greater our chances of getting lung cancer. As of 2018, 1,055, 172 Africans had been affected by cancer. In men alone, 28, 310 cases of lung cancer was recorded in 2018 on the continent.
The number of persons with clinical asthma in Nigeria currently stands at about 13 million. This figure is reported to rank among the highest in Africa. In terms of heart diseases, medically referred to as cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), the WHO said CDVs are number one cause of death accounting for 17.5 million deaths yearly, with high-blood pressure being the leading risk factor.
A report published by the African Health Sciences, noted that global mortality burden from cardiovascular diseases has been projected to increase by 20 per cent by year 2020 with the greatest contribution expected from regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.
Usually, vehicles produce carbon dioxide (Co2) and water vapour (H2O) from the complete combustion of the fuel. The United States Environmental Protection Agency earlier noted that the transport sector contributes to poor air quality with the release of particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
The agency further noted that the transportation sector was responsible for over 55 per cent of NOx’s total emissions inventory in the U.S, about 10 per cent VOCs emissions, and less than 10 per cent of PM2.5 and PM10 emissions in the United States.
Experts have also said that sulphur dioxide irritates the skin and mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. And this menace has been reported to cause inflammation and irritation of the respiratory system with resulting symptoms, which include pains during deep breath, coughing, throat irritation, and breathing difficulties. Researchers also noted that this emission can worsen attacks in asthmatic patients, as well as in some existing heart diseases.
Dearth Of Refineries In Africa And Growing Population
AFRICA has about 43 refineries, and the total nameplate capacity of those refineries is put at about 3 million barrels per day (bpd). In Egypt, there are nine refineries (774,900 bpd); Algeria has five (303,700 bpd); Libya has five (380,000 bpd); South Africa has four (545,000); Nigeria has 3 refineries (445,000 bpd), while Niger Republic recently constructed a small refinery.
Although these refineries operate at different levels, none of them is operating to nameplate. In Nigeria, for instance, the three refineries are operating at zero capacity and have since been shutdown by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The UN Population Division reported last year that Africa would account for more than half of global population growth between now and 2050, adding at least, one billion would be added to the population in the next 30 years. With this development, one of every two persons in the world would be an African.
The demand for petroleum products is put at four million bpd by the association of refiners in Africa. With the growing population, the International Energy Agency, in its 2019 energy outlook projected exponential demand in energy, especially petroleum product as vehicle population in Africa was projected to hit three billion by 2040.
The African Refiners and Distributors Association (ARA) not long ago, raised some concerns over the state of refineries on the continent. While the refineries struggle to meet demand, they blend products that fail to comply with global best practices. The association, therefore, insisted that unless the refineries are upgraded, Africa would still face the challenge of dirty fuel.
With the growing population of persons and vehicles; the importation of outlawed vehicles and products; the inability to locally meet the demand, or refine products with low sulphur content, exponential increase is expected in air pollution on the continent.
Prevailing Situation And Realisation Of Sustainable Development Goals
THE Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs), a set of 17 interlinked goals is aimed at facilitating a better and more sustainable future for all. The many effects of dirty fuel directly negate some of these goals, especially in the areas of health and environment. While attaining the goals have remained elusive in Africa, dirty fuel could specifically hamper SDG Three, which focuses on good health and wellbeing. It also negates Goal Seven, which is on affordable and clean energy. The development could also hinder Goal Nine, which is on industry, innovation and infrastructure, as well as Goal 11, which seeks sustainable city and communities. In terms of Goal 13, which is on climate action, high sulphur in fuels has been reported as a major trigger for climate change.
Dissecting AU and ARA Options
IN its mission to serve as the continent’s leader in the drive to transit to cleaner fuels, there is an ongoing collaboration between ARA, and the African Union (AU) on the adoption of harmonised AFRI Clean Fuel Specifications across Africa. These cleaner fuel specs recommend the adoption of AFRI 5 (50 ppm sulphur for gasoline and diesel) by 2025, and the adoption of AFRI 6 specs (10 ppm for same products) by 2030. The objective is to stop the importation of fuels that do not meeting these AFRI specs into Africa by 2021 and give existing refineries until 2025 to upgrade their facilities to produce the cleaner specs. ECOWAS Council of Ministers of Hydrocarbons had in February 2020 recommended product imports to meet AFRI 5 specs by 2021, and for ECOWAS refineries to meet AFRI 5 specs by 2025.
The AU and ARA jointly held a virtual Consultative Forum with key stakeholders across the continent (including the NNPC; the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) in Nigeria; ECOWAS; SAR of Senegal; NPA of Ghana; NOC of Ethiopia; Sonangol; SAPIA of South Africa; Sasol, UNEP, and others.
On June 22, 2020, the Executive Secretary of ARA, Anibor Kragha, ahead of a planned submission to the AU Technical Meeting of African Energy, said ARA also plans to develop a register of projects for upgrading refineries and infrastructure across Africa, and to engage financiers, including African development finance institutions like the ADB, Afrexim Bank, and the Africa Finance Corporation, to secure the required funding for these critical upgrade projects.
Another key focus area is for African countries, especially those sharing common fuel supply chains, to develop an integrated policy covering both fuel quality and vehicle exhaust emissions to achieve the ultimate objective of clean air in our cities. Without this integrated, coordinated policy, the objective of clean air will not be realised whether by imports or local production.
As critical as this development is sustainability and eventual compliance by member-states remain a major worry for major stakeholders. This is because previous efforts by individual countries like Nigeria, have not yielded much result.
Stakeholders Raise Concern Over Dirty Fuel
A PROFESSOR of Energy and Environmental Law at Afe Babalola University (ABUAD), Damilola Olawuyi, sees dirty fuel importation as an environmental, social, and human rights breaches.
He decried that major oil companies were getting away with the development because stringent air pollution control measures are not in place. He also condemned the dumping of poor quality fuels that cannot be sold in any other country in Nigeria, and the toxic contamination that follows.
Olawuyi further faulted the current standard in the country, which allows the importation of petrol with 150 ppm.
On his part, Adeola Adenikinju of the Department of Economics, and the Centre for Petroleum, Energy Economics and Law, University of Ibadan, noted that some regulatory agencies in the downstream sector were not doing their job.
“In most countries, you have different categories of fuels (premium and regular) to cater for different types of motor engines. Does anyone care about the huge cost and damage of this inferior quality fuel to vehicles, equipment and machines in the country? Do we know the replacement costs for damaged engines and lost production?” he asked.
A Professor of Petroleum Economics and Policy Research, Wumi Iledare, raised concerns over the roles played by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the SON, describing the situation as an indictment on importers and institutions charged with maintaining quality.
“It is a call to action for the DPR, SON and the PPPRA. It is not permissible to use dirty fuel when we are clamouring to minimise greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
Ledum Mitee, the former chairman of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), explained that the implications of widespread use of dirty fuel was a sordid revelation. “Most importantly, the health implications should be frightening and should be investigated, and accountability located. Of course, it also has the obvious implication that what we have been importing is substandard fuel from God-knows-where because Europe has very robust regulatory systems on fuel quality.”
A foremost environmental activist, and Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey, described the development as “a huge health threat” that could weaken our resistance to opportunistic illnesses, such as the ones related to Coronavirus.”
In his reaction, the SDN’s Senior Project Officer (Environment), Jesse Martin Manufor, told The Guardian: “We should not be exporting sweet crude that is low in sulphur and import high-sulphur fuel. It does not make any sense.
“Countries like Ghana have banned petroleum products with sulphur and other bad elements. It is a bit shocking that Nigeria is still importing that, and is still increasing the price of toxic petrol.”
Possible Way Forward
SINCE weak regulation and dearth of infrastructure contribute significantly to the importation of dirty fuel into the continent, adopting the AU and ARA petroleum products specifications could drastically reduce import, help to upgrade infrastructure and also ensure that export of petroleum products within Africa meet global best practice.
It is also necessary for Africa to deploy its resources, through regional or continental finance cooperation to upgrade refineries or build more greenfield refineries. This will not only aid compliance, but also provide jobs and spur economic development in the region, particularly at a time when a lot of countries are discovering crude oil on the continent.
Although a number of African countries including Nigeria have automotive policies, which are aimed at industrial revolution through car manufacturing within the continent, used cars still form over 80 per cent of vehicle population. It is therefore necessary for Africa to revisit its auto policies and provide incentives for people to drive brand new cars, with less emission challenge.
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