By Odimegwu Onwumere
25 April 2013 – Oil and gas companies in Nigeria see zero per cent gas flaring as a mirage. They are very interested in the quantity of product that will accrue from their onshore or offshore oil wells, with little care about the environmental brunt of burning associated gas from oil drilling sites.
The maddening part of this issue is that the companies see flared gas into the environment as waste or unusable, even though they know 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, and human and environmental rights crusaders across Nigeria. 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 flaring of 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 sulphur dioxide and other sulphur compounds, and toxics… all of which are known to exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems,” a report says.
Another says, “flaring at oil and gas production sites may emit methane, sulphur dioxide, aromatic hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene and xylenes), as well as carcinogens such as benzapyrene.”
It is absurd that the government of Nigeria has said much about ending gas flaring by December 31st 2012, but less than 50% of this promise has been achieved. In some reports, technological and economic implications are given for the non-accomplishment.
Many Nigerians are not informed of the extent to which gas flaring is damaging the environment. They rather see gas flaring as part of the government businesses that should not be snooped into or questioned.
Nigeria has been recorded as the highest gas flaring country in Africa, both in absolute and proportionate terms.
Expectations were high that the December 31st 2012 deadline given to oil exploration companies by the National Assembly to stop gas flaring activities in all the oil fields in Nigeria would see progress.
But government apologists either warned 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 tops the rest of the world as the highest emitter, and on top of that it is ranked as a developed country.
“The United States of America in spite of its technological prowess and commitment to environmental ideals remains the world’s 5th largest emitter of this poisonous smoke,” says a source.
In 1969, General Yakubu Gowon was head of state. Seemingly, he allowed oil operators a five year ultimatum within which to bring to a halt gas flaring. Critics have always slammed him because he did not put in place an organisational apparatus that would end the admittance he granted to these oil companies.
Gowon’s decision was regarded as a “military pronouncement”. Oil companies across the country hold hands on that decision that stopping the flaring of gas would amount to a total shut down of their operations in Nigeria. But the possibility of Nigeria paying this price is still farfetched.
Nigeria is said to be burning off an equivalent of US$1.4 billion annually. According to a report in the media on Monday, March 4th 2013, the minister of petroleum resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke says that the country has a “new target”, which is not to bring a total end to gas flaring but to meet 22% of gas flaring reduction by 2017, which is characterised as “in the short-term”.
A World Bank report says that while globally flaring has been cut by 30% since 2005, US$50 billion worth of gas is still wasted annually. “Azerbaijan has cut flaring by 50% in two years, Mexico by 66% and Kuwait now only flares 1% of its excess gas. Other countries, including Qatar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, now use large volumes of previously wasted gas to generate electricity,” says the bank.
Albeit, gas flaring which the bank said was reduced from 172 billion cubic metres a year in 2007 did not go below 142 billion cubic metres in 2011. The question is whether politics and oil money will allow Nigeria to be among the countries that the bank has urged to reduce flaring by at least 30% in the next five years.
The report continues that it makes financial and developmental sense. Quoting Rachel Kyte, World Bank vice-president for sustainable development: “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 there is no country now that does not want to wrestle with this issue.”
A spokesperson for French oil company – Total, which has committed to halving the volume it flares by 2014, says: “Flaring is very stupid, for sure. But stopping it is difficult. We are going in the right direction but it takes time.”
The Nigerian Supreme Court in 2005 saw 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% since 2007.
By Friday, 25 March 2011 the Federal Government had set an agenda for ending gas flaring and unveiled what was regarded as “ambitious US$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. It signed two Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) – one between Xenel and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and the other with India’s Nagarjuna Fertilizers, 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.
President Goodluck Jonathan says the novel gas agenda has set in motion a means for wealth establishment in Nigeria. Jonathan tells industry executives, government officials and diplomats at the launch of the plan in Abuja, the seat of power: “This agenda sets the tone for the final elimination of gas flaring in Nigeria as the markets created provide a sink for all currently flared gas. As we sustainably eliminate flare, we mobilise this valuable commodity which, for several years, we have wasted”.
There is a notion that Agip and Oando are to build a natural gas processing facility at (Obiafu) in Rivers State.
Andrew Fawthrop, Chevron’s managing director in Nigeria, tells newsmen: “We’ve agreed to begin with 175 million cubic feet of gas per day. We will deliver the gas once the pipelines and other infrastructure are in place.”
Saudi Arabian firm – Natpet, a subsidiary of petrochemicals firm – Alujain, says it will invest US$3.5 billion in a petrochemical plant. India’s Nagarjuna Fertilisers says it has committed to building two fertiliser plants – an investment of around US$2.5 billion. All these promises are yet to hold water.
Jonathan says that going by the anticipation of government: “By 2014, we would have positioned Nigeria firmly as the undisputed regional hub for such gas-based industries as fertiliser, petrochemicals and methanol… we recognise that our objective can only be achieved through a revolution…. The petrochemical industry will provide us with the potential not only to manufacture low-end plastic and packaging products, but also very high-end products. With a capacity that spans such a wide continuum, there is opportunity for industrialisation”.
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 say that there is still a way out.
The resolve in that report, which the lawmakers made that any company that declared an inaccurately flared gas volume should pay a penalty fee of US$100,000, should be re-addressed to bar perpetrators. They should be strict on submissions made by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, DPR, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC), Exxon Mobil Nigeria Unlimited, Total Nigeria, Chevron, Addax, National Agip Oil Company. The Nigeria Civil Society Platform Against Gas Flaring at the public hearing held on March 10, 2009, noted that treating this issue with the kid’s gloves could be the reason the January 1, 1984 deadline to end gas flaring was substituted with a new date of December 31, 2012.
What is the sense of gas flaring costing Nigeria over US$1 billion every year? Experts also say that it is possible to stop gas flaring either through re-injection or utilisation.
“Gas flaring should be brought to an end because of the monumental waste of resources especially in a country like Nigeria where energy demand surpasses supply and where over 70% of the population still live in abject poverty… the extent of environmental degradation that gas flaring causes is enormous and therefore stopping gas flaring will reduce the environmental and health effects.”