For Nigerians, particularly those living in the Niger Delta region who are impacted directly by gas flaring daily, there seems to be no respite as oil producing companies in the country continue flare gas despite a global campaign against the practice.
According to the Group Managing Director (GMD) of Oilserv Limited, Mr. Emeka Okwosa, Nigeria flares about 1.2 billion cubic feet (bcf/d) of gas a day. This amount fuels about 7000MW of efficient thermal electric power, supplying over 1400 agro-processing facilities, 350 textile plants, and 70 fertilizer plants. These industries create over one million jobs for Nigerians.
Similarly, as at 2012, according to the African Energy Outlook for 2014, Nigeria flared about 17bcm on the average, slightly more than its annual consumption. However, gas flaring in other West African producing countries has remained around 12bcm per year.
According to experts, oil and gas companies in Nigeria are pumping nearly 17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere yearly, which endangers human health and the environment. Other hazards associated with gas flaring include increased temperatures, heat-waves and global warming.
Consequently, these environmentally degrading conditions dehydrate surroundings, habitats, food chains, nitrogen cycle, oxygen cycle, flora and fauna, animal and vegetations and thereby cause deaths or poor yields of environmental resources.
Gas flaring is also a causative agent of acid rain. Corrugated roofs in the Delta region have been corroded by the composition of the rain that falls as a result of flaring. It pollutes and damages of farmlands as well.
“Gas flares are nothing short of crimes against humanity,” said Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Lagos-based Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and chair of Friends of the Earth International. “They roast the skies, kill crops and poison the air. These gas stacks pump up greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, impacting the climate, placing everyone at risk. Gas flares go on because it is cheap to kill, as long as profits keep on the rise.”
Mr. Napoleon Adam, an environmental activist who resides in one the Niger Delta communities, Omoku in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government of Rivers State, said gas flaring had caused a lot of complications to the health of the people and listed some of such ailments to include cataractd, asthma, tuberculosis and other upper respiratory tract infections.
“The fact is that the average community man or woman does not know what flaring is doing to their lives, but for a few of us who know, we are alarmed. We have eight flare points here. The people see the flare as normal, something that has gone on for a long time. We have been calling on Agip and the government to stop flaring here,” he added.
Emissions from gas flares contain smoke, soot, smog and other acidic particles which, according to experts, constitute health hazards mostly in the form of respiratory tract diseases. The oxides and sulfides in hydro-carbon with gaseous chemicals when flared combine with water in the atmosphere to form various types of corrosive acids such as nitric and suffrous acids that irritates the human skin and prevent plants chlorophyll from functioning. Cancer of the skin, cases of prickly heat and excessive sweating that leads to dehydration, premature births, restlessness and other diseases all have been medically linked to this destructive practice.
Economically, Nigeria is bleeding from the impact of gas flaring. Between January and September 2014, oil companies operating in Nigeria flared about 295 billion standard cubic feet of natural gas, according to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), resulting to the loss of $1 billion by the Nigerian government.
The most appalling aspect of gas flaring in Nigeria is that it is happening amidst several laws and environmental regulations. For instance, the Associated Gas Re-injection Act was enacted to compel every company producing oil and gas in Nigeria to submit preliminary programmes for gas re-injection and detailed plans for implementation of gas re-injection. It also made it illegal after the set date to flare gas without the permission of the Minister of Petroleum.
The Act equally set a deadline of January 1, 1984 for the stoppage of gas flares. The target date was shifted to 2008 and later moved to 2011, yet gas is still being flared up to this date. Gas flaring was also banned and declared as unconstitutional by Nigerian Supreme Court in 1984 but that could cut on ice as well.
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Gas has accused international oil companies of deliberately flouting various rules regulating the sector because the country was not enforcing its law guiding the gas sector. Chairman of the Committee Albert Akpan, who made the observation, regretted that the mechanisms available to government to curb irregularities in the gas sector were not being fully utilised.
“Despite the various policy regulating the sector, routine gas flaring still continues; companies are even satisfied paying penalties and the mechanisms available to government to curb these irregularities are not fully utilised due to excessive ministerial permissions, limited regulation and the incontrovertible position of NNPC in the Joint Ventures,” he said.
Akpan, who represents Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial zone, assured Nigerians that his committee would look critically into the economic, health and environmental degradation of the oil-bearing communities caused by the continuous gas flaring in the country.
“Strong and effective legal framework must be put in place and sanction enforced against erring multinational companies to act as deterrence. The time to act is now,” he concluded.