Gas flaring: No end to living with fumes and burns
Crude oil and associated products such as gas have been the major foreign exchange earner for Nigeria for decades. But over the years, only a little proportion of the associated gas is converted to liquefied natural gas. The rest is wasted through gas flaring.
Today, Nigeria is reputed to be one of the countries with high degree of gas flaring. Apart from financial losses, the negative environmental impact is currently manifesting in some oil producing communities. It is the major cause of environmental degradation with severe damage to ecosystem of the areas with attendant health hazard for residents.
Why Gas Flaring
The Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nnimmo Bassey, said, “oil operators continue to flare gas, because it is financially cheaper than to harness the gas for economic use. Another reason is that Nigeria has abundant gas that is not associated with crude oil extraction and it is cheaper to extract from gas fields. When the ratio of gas flared to gas produced in the country is made, inclusive of non-associated gas, the downward trend the result gives is intentionally deceptive.”
He maintained that gas flaring would stop if the penalty for flaring were equal to the economic value of natural gas, observing that there is no incentive to halt the ongoing environmental misbehaviour.
According to Bassey, the last Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) had no deadline for ending gas flaring, noting that it is unacceptable that the atrocious act is allowed in the country 60 years after commercial exploitation of crude oil commenced.
Efforts To Stop Gas Flaring
Although, government had, in 1984, prohibited gas flaring, some oil firms were allowed to flare, having received ministerial consent. Others found their way around the law by paying fines.
The Associated Gas Re-injection Act of 1984, made it illegal after January 1, 1984 to flare gas without the permission of the Minister of Petroleum. This clause in the Act has made it impossible to achieve the deadline targets for the end of gas flaring, which have shifted many times, first from 1984 to 2008 and 2011 till date. In 2014, it was reported that Nigeria lost about $1billion to gas flaring.
Data from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) indicated that Nigeria burnt over $3.5 to $5b yearly from the over 257 flow stations in the Niger Delta. Nigeria flared about 17.15 percent of the 95,471 metric tonnes of gas produced in June 2015, and lost about $868.8 million (about N173.76b) to gas flaring in 2015 alone.
The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) stated in its 2015 Statistical Report that Nigeria produced 86,325.2 million standard cubic metres of gas and flared 10,736.8 million standard cubic metres in 2014. Residents of the communities, where flaring is ongoing have been speaking of their challenges.
Niger Delta activist and national coordinator of the Niger Delta Peace Coalition (NDPC), Zik Gbemre, said there is sufficient evidence and exhaustive researches, which have proven that gas flaring has adverse effect on the inhabitants of host communities in the Niger Delta Region.
Said he: “My community, Iwhrekan, is one out of the many of such host communities that have suffered from decades of gas flaring by IOCs. The million tons of carbon dioxide and methane released into the atmosphere every year, as a result of gas flaring, have obviously polluted the air we breathe in this part of the world. Consequently, diseases such as bronchitis, respiratory infections, cancers and even infertility related illness have become regular occurrences in the region, affecting both our children and the adults. In the midst of this, the locals are still subjected to all manner of unjust government policies and bad governance in the appropriation of the wealth that comes from this natural resource.
The Federal Government has not been sincere in addressing the issue of gas flaring and gas development in the country because of politics and vested interests, which have created a bottleneck in the activities of the Nigerian Gas Company (NGC). How can the country continue to have a gas company known as Nigerian Gas Company (NGC) that does not produce gas, but is only good at piping and metering the gas produced by others? It simply does not make sense. And this is why we have advocated for the complete scrapping of the Nigerian Gas Company (NGC) and the liberalisation of the gas sector to allow investors come in
“However, there were some efforts by IOCs such as Shell (SPDC) to reduce gas flaring in Nigeria to the barest minimum, as gas flaring cannot be completely eliminated. Some of these options for associated gas utilisation, as planned by Shell, for instance, include the re-Injection into reservoirs, fuel for industries, fuel for power generation, compressed natural gas (CNG) for vehicular and other uses, extraction and bottling of LPG constituents for commercial consumption, feedstock for industry and liquefied natural gas for export, among others.
“Part of the concrete efforts made by Shell (SPDC) in this regard was the initiation of the present Utorogu Gas Plant Phase 2 (aka Utorogu NAG 2) Project in OML 34, Delta State, which is meant to gather Associated Gas (AG) from the surrounding oil fields to address the gas being flared around the said areas. But that gas project, which is near completion and has been taken over by NPDC/NNPC after Shell’s (SPDC) divestment in Delta State, is presently being neglected due to lack of funding by the Federal Government and other JV partners. One would have thought relevant stakeholders, as part of efforts to address this problem, would make such a sensitive gas project like the Utorogu NAG 2 Project priority. But that remains to be seen.
“The Federal Government has not been sincere in addressing the issue of gas flaring and gas development in the country because of politics and vested interests, which have created a bottleneck in the activities of the Nigerian Gas Company (NGC). How can the country continue to have a gas company known as Nigerian Gas Company (NGC) that does not produce gas, but is only good at piping and metering the gas produced by others? It simply does not make sense. And this is why we have advocated for the complete scrapping of the Nigerian Gas Company (NGC) and the liberalisation of the gas sector to allow investors come in.
“So, if you ask me why gas is still being flared today in Nigeria, it is simply because of the following reasons: Limited numbers of appropriate reservoirs conducive for gas re-injection/storage and the economics of scale of doing so, low technological and industrial base for energy consumption in the country, limited regional and international gas market, inadequate fiscal and gas pricing policies to encourage investment and lack of infrastructure for gas gathering; among others. We only pray and hope that the Buhari administration will turn things around in the interest of the Nigerian economy, as well as the health and well-being of the people in the Niger Delta Area, by taking appropriate steps in addressing some of these issues and challenges, to drastically reduce gas flaring in the country.”
Impact On Environment
MANY oil bearing communities in Rivers State that suffering the effects of gas flaring have called for a stronger legislation that would truly bring an end to gas flaring.
In Rivers State, flaring has been going on for 40 years in places such as Omoku, Obrikom, Okwunzi in Ogba/Egbema/ Ndoni Local Government Area of the state, where the Nigerian Agip Oil Company is operating. Some other affected communities include Akala-Olu, Enito and Oshie in Ahoada West Local Council. There are also records of gas flaring in Ahoada East, Emoha and Eleme Local Councils among others.
Consequently, these areas have been exposed to air pollutants that have resulted in various ailments, which sometimes lead to premature death.
For Bassey Nnimmo, impacts of gas flaring are numerous as the flares deprive citizens the right to a safe environment and to life. Gas flaring, he said, is sources of extreme heat, noise and glare, depriving communities of dark and quiet nights. “They cause many health problems, including asthma, bronchitis, leukemia, cancers, eye problems and skin diseases. The flares also cause acid rain. This results from the mixture of sulfur and nitrogen oxides in the gas with moisture in the atmosphere. There are economic losses from metal roofing that readily get rusty from the acid. Additionally, gas flares affect crop yield, thereby, greatly compromising the harvests of the poor farmers in the oil field communities. The impacts go as far as one kilometre from the flare stacks. Some community folks process their food by the intense heat from the toxic flares. Needless to say that this act of ignorance creates and exports disease to communities and individuals far from the flare stacks.”
Speaking on the ugly development, Elder Dandy, who hails from Okwuzi community in Ogba/Egbema /Ndoni Local Council of the state said gas flaring in the area has been existing for 40 years, yet there have been no stringent effort by the oil companies to address the hazards or look into the welfare of the people.
According to him, the area is now witnessing acid rain, prevalence of cancers, itches, and other diseases that often lead to death. He accused the oil companies of being insensitive to the plight of the majority of the people.
“What we are suffering here is not the business of the oil companies operating in these areas, as long as the oil is flowing. They only engage and collaborate with community chiefs, giving them money or contract to buy them. And the few of us that know about the dangers of this flaring are left to our fate because they have great influence on the community leaders,” he said.
What we are suffering here is not the business of the oil companies operating in these areas, as long as the oil is flowing. They only engage and collaborate with community chiefs, giving them money or contract to buy them. And the few of us that know about the dangers of this flaring are left to our fate because they have great influence on the community leaders
Dandy, however, blamed the situation on government’s inability to implement the existing policy on gas flaring. He also blamed government for not putting in place legislation that would actually bring an end to the menace.
Said he: “We do not have a strong legislation. There is need to strengthen legislation on gas flaring and enforce it. For instance, a court passed a judgment to end gas flaring, but the oil companies did not comply with it. We have written and gone to the National Assembly severally on this matter, but at the end, nothing happened.”
Investigations revealed that some communities in Ogba/Egbama/Ndoni Local Council have severally staged peaceful protests over the situation, but The Guardian gathered that some community leaders, who are benefitting from the oil companies, usually pacified them.
Meanwhile, worried by the unabated gas flaring and its adverse effects on the lives of people in the communities, the Federal Government has been urged to adopt necessary mechanisms to end the phenomenon.
The call was made at a workshop organised recently in Port Harcourt by Gas Alert for Sustainable Initiative (GASIN) in collaboration with the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), for oil bearing communities in the state.
A communiqué issued at the end of the meeting said government and oil operators should be sincere in their promises, especially towards ending gas flaring and not make them the usual empty political promises.
The Federal Government may soon sign a zero routine agreement to end gas flaring by 2030, with the national target set at 2020. The Media Relations Manager, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SDPC), Precious Okolobo, who recalled the history of SDPC in Nigeria said: “When SDPC first built production facilities in the 1950s and 1960s, there was little demand or market for the gas that was produced with the oil, commonly known as associated gas. Consequently, the majority of the gas was flared.
“In recent years, demand for gas in Nigeria and other countries has grown, whilst the technology to harness, liquefy and export gas has matured. Since 2000, all new SPDC JV facilities have been designed to include no continuous flaring of associated gas. In parallel, a multi-year programme was implemented to install equipment for capturing associated gas from older facilities. The combined effect of these initiatives is a substantial reduction in the volume of gas flared from our operations.”
On the observation that international companies adhere to gas flaring policies in some countries, but fail to do so in Nigeria, he said: “Shell works to the same standards in the more than 70 countries in which it operates. We apply uniform processes and standards, although local regulations may differ from one country to the other.”
According to him, achievement of zero gas flaring by 2030 is also hinged on adequate security in Niger Delta, as well as sustainable commitment from partners.
“Further progress will, however, depend on the security situation in the Niger Delta. Sustained commitments from all joint venture partners are also crucial. Funding challenges have resulted in delays to two major associated gas-gathering projects that were expected to deliver an additional 35 percent reduction in flared gas by 2014 to 2015. Despite the funding challenges, flaring intensity levels in SDPC decreased by about 15 percent in 2015 compared with 2014. Work to improve asset reliability reduced the rate of flaring and the divestment in some assets further contributed to the decrease in flaring emissions.
“Seeing that Nigeria will soon sign the zero gas utilisation projects to end flaring by 2030, Shell signed up to the Word Bank’s “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” initiative in 2015. This is an important initiative to ensure all stakeholders, including governments and companies, work together to address routine flaring. Also, since 2000, SPDC has worked with its joint venture partners and the Federal government of Nigeria towards the objective of ending the continuous flaring of associated gas.”
However, experts have taken a swipe at the agreement, and they believe that the deadline to end flaring of gas by the year 2030 is a farce.
A lecturer at the University of Lagos, Yekini Adeboye said it is impossible to end gas flaring in Nigeria by 2030. The way out, he explained, is for government to provide the needed infrastructure.
“Associated gas comes along with oil, and operators in that sector of the industry have not been able to monetise it because the volume is low, when compared to the infrastructure required to gather the gas.
“No oil company can break even due to lack of required equitable investment. So, the oil companies would rather flare the gas and pay the fine, as it is cheaper for them that way, even though they pollute the environment. And that is why the policy on gas flaring in Nigeria, has never worked, and deadlines are shifting. If government wants to actualise zero gas flaring, it needs to build a gas-gathering system such that there will be links to the facilities, which involves pipe construction and right of way.
“Another question is the volume of gas that is to be processed. We do not have the infrastructure to cater for it. The kind of policy we have does not encourage private participation. Government has to provide enabling environment and eliminate multiple taxes. We talk about other countries having reduced their flaring, but we should also ask ourselves if the oil companies in Nigeria have the same enabling environment as in those other countries we compare it with.”
On the way forward, Bassey said that associated gas could be re-injected into wells, rather than being flared. He also said gas could be utilised for electricity generation or as cooking gas. “Importantly, communities have peacefully complained of the harm the flares expose them to. A community like Iwherekhan in Delta State sued Shell over the gas flared in their community. These are all efforts to halt flaring. Only a small fraction of the gas used in power generation or exported through the West African Gas Pipeline is associated gas.”
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