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Gas Flaring: Nigerian Govt Under Pressure

Akanimo Sampson,

Port Harcourt

Gas Flaring: Nigerian Govt Under Pressure As Foei Joins Campaign

THE Government of Nigeria is currently under intense pressure to ban gas flaring in the Niger Delta. This is coming as Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), a global federation of environmental rights advocacy groups in a presentation to the authorities in Abuja last week declared, ''50 years of destructive exploitation is enough''.

Nigeria's Nnimmo Bassey, who is currently the Chair of the global network in a soft copy of their presentation in Abuja to our correspondent yesterday claimed that gas flaring has been a contentious issue in Nigeria right from the beginning of commercial exploitation of crude oil in the country.

''The gas that is flared in the oil fields of the Niger Delta is called associated gas because it comes out of the earth along with the target crude oil and is separated from the crude so as to make that commodity useful. The separated gas could be handled in a number of ways. First it could be harnessed for use as liquefied natural gas. Secondly it could be re-injected into the earth where it came from. Thirdly it could be vented or flared. In Nigeria over 50% of the gas associated with crude oil extracted is flared'', he said.

This act, according to the FoEI chief, has been considered reprehensible because of its impacts, its wastefulness and its continuous and routine manner. Gas flaring is a sad metaphor for a profligate nation that eats her chickens and the eggs and yet expects more eggs in future.

According to them, oil corporations have been engaged in gas flaring for at least 50 years now, alleging that the country has been earning on aggregate a tidy sum of around $20 billion annually from oil revenues over the years. ''This argument about huge revenues do not answer the irresponsibility of corporations and governments who are joint venture partners and continue to flare gas in Nigeria through their unholy alliances of denial of impacts on the ground. The 50 years old script of pacification by underhand play requires urgent critical political, environmental and socio-economic examination and replacement'', the group said.

It was not until the 1979 Associated Gas Reinjection Act that routine gas flaring was finally outlawed in Nigeria. Section 3 of the Act set 1984 as the deadline after which companies could only flare gas if they have field(s)-specific, lawfully issued, ministerial certificates.

From research, 168 billion cubic meters of natural gas is flared yearly worldwide. It is equivalent to 25% of gas consumption in the USA and 30% of EU gas consumption. The flares pump 400 million tons of CO2 annually into the atmosphere. 13% of the gas flared in the world comes from Nigeria alone and stands at about 23 billion cubic meters per year. This quantity is enough to meet Nigeria’s energy needs and leave a healthy balance for export.

There are over 100 flare sites still emitting a toxic cocktail of chemicals into the atmosphere in the Niger Delta. Through this obnoxious act the country has lost about $72 billion in revenues for the period 1970-2006 or about $2.5 billion annually. All these go up in smoke yearly, leaving death and destruction in its path.

The politics of gas flaring has seen the dates for ending gas flares being shifted as it suits the corporations and the government For Bassey, who is also the Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action (ERA) said they are the players as well as the umpires and can freely shift the goalposts as they please.

''The latest shift of deadline was announced by President Umaru Yar’Adua at an International Gas Stakeholders Forum held in Abuja in November 2007, about a month to the end of a subsisting deadline. During the president’s speech he simply moved the deadline for gas flaring from January 2008 to December 2008 despite the clamour of Nigerians and citizens of the world that gas flaring should be stopped at the close of 2007. There were indeed a lot of noises late 2007 and early 2008 about how gas flaring would be ended in Nigeria and in the mix of official voices policy incoherence was very apparent.

''The government also set up of the so-called ad hoc committee to halt gas flaring. This committee facilitated by the World Bank Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) has turned out to be little more than hot air. None of the official moves made in this regard has gained the confidence of community actors who are justifiably fed up with mere rhetorics'', he said.

People, they said, generally conceive of a gas flare as a huge orange flame at the top of a high stack, adding, ''in the Niger Delta this picture is not always so. Some of the flares are at ground level, and some are not only at ground level, they point menavingly at communities belching heat and smoke from their inefficient infernos. These horizontal flares constitute peculiar hazards as their heat and toxins are more or less at ground level. They spare neither the vegetation nor any life form in their path. Including humans''.

Continuing, they said another troubling fact is that some of these flares are right within residential areas in communities. The gas flare in Rumuekpe community in River State, for instance, is located about 250 meters from inhabited houses in the community.

''Government’s staggering on the gas flare issue commenced in 1969. That was when the first major move was made by the Nigerian state to halt gas flaring in the country. At that time the General Yakubu Gowon ordered that corporations should set up infrastructure to utilise associated gas within five years of their commencement of operations. When the oil companies paid scant attention to this order the government then moved the goal post to 1979 but could not enforce this new deadline before it was overthrown in 1975.

''The Associated Gas Re-Injection Act Number 99 of 1979 required that oil corporations operating in Nigeria should produce detailed plans for gas utilization as well as guarantee zero flares by January 1, 1984. The only way by which they could continue flaring after that date would be by the express permission of the responsible minister on a case-by-case basis.

''Since these deadlines are never respected, government has resorted to shifting them according to the pleasure of the corporations through executive orders embedded in speeches/remarks and without any backing by law.

''It was in response to local and international pressure that the Federal Government once more pledged to halt gas flares in Nigeria and set January 1, 2008 as the flares out. This was not to be because by December 17, 2007 a fresh shift was announced with a new target date of December 31, 2008. After that announcement there has been a lot of muddling that renders it virtually impossible to know what target date the government is pursuing.

''This is why Nigerians believe that the Senate is on the right track when they embarked on the drafting of a Bill to end illegal gas flaring by December 31, 2008. An enactment of such a law is the only measure by which Nigerians can say that there is a modicum of the rule of law with regard to gas flaring in Nigeria. Otherwise, it is clear that the acclaimed rule of law claims of the government may well be nothing beyond political posturing'', they said.

On corporate reluctance to end gas flaring, they claimed that Shell estimated that an additional investment of $1.85 billion (about N247.9 billion) would be required to complete some projects that would enable it achieve zero flare level by the end of 2009.

A Shell boss however,made a statement in 2005 that "The construction of these facilities will only be completed by end 2009, which means that gas flaring from the relevant flowstations will not be eliminated until end 2009. On the commissioning of these facilities we will cover 95 per cent of all associated gas produced“.

Shell in its Sustainability Report 2006 asserted that they would end routine gas flaring everywhere in the world in 2008 except in the Niger Delta.

We will continue our efforts to end continuous flaring at upstream locations, other than Nigeria, by 2008. In Nigeria, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) joint venture expects to end continuous flaring there as planned, during 2009.

They gave two reasons. The first reason given was that some of the locations are too inaccessible. And the second reason given was that the flares would only end in some locations by shutting down production. Being unable to see the wisdom in the colonial Trade Commissioner’s memo that it may not always be in the interest of a people to exploit her natural resources, we are unable to consider that option of shutting down activities that are harmful to us in several ways as we shall see.

In Shell’s Sustainability Report 2007 these two excuses for not ending gas flaring are dispensed with completely and a more convenient one has now been constructed: the oil fields are too violent.

ExxonMobil also thinks that the realistic flares down will be end of 2010. The corporation’s Area Manager in Nigeria, Ms Kim Bates, gave ExxonMobil’s perspective in a talk on Gaps in the Gas Development Chain. The corporation claimed that the end of 2007 was not feasible because of the security situation in the Niger Delta, the pricing regime (probably for gas) and funding for infrastructure development.

For Chevron, ending gas flaring in 2008 is not practical it would have dire economic consequences and would “defer income from 480 million barrels of oil between 2009 and 2012." Chevron’s official, Charles Adeniyi, stated this while speaking on behalf of the oil industry at a public hearing on flaring held at the National Assembly in November 2007. The industry wants the deadline shifted to 2010, adding even this would depend on government action

The rest of the FoEI presentation by Bassey went thus: ''Efforts have been made in the past to penalize oil corporations for flaring gas beyond set deadlines. These fines however have been so paltry that it is still cheaper for the corporations to pay the fines than to act to halt the obnoxious act. By the Associated Gas Reinjection Act 1979, the fee charged for flaring was first fixed at 0.50 Naira per million cubic feet (mcf) but was from January 1998 this penalty was increased to 10 Naira per mcf.

The World Bank notes that, “in recent years oil companies in Nigeria have been charged a total of between 20 million and 50 million Naira (or US$150,000-370,000) annually for flaring associated gas.” The report also called attention to a study by the Bureau of Public Enterprises of Nigeria that showed that the country loses between US$500 million and US$2.5 billion to gas flaring each year.

''The DPR announced that from 1 January 2009 the penalty would be raised to $3.5 for every 1000 cubic feet of gas flared. At a public hearing held by the Senate in November 2008 on a proposed Gas Flare bill, the Senate President, David Mark noted that the proposed fine of $3.50 per 1,000 standard cubit feet (scf) of gas flared is meager and would not be a deterrent to the companies which have continued their act with impunity.

''One question that remains is whether the government would enforce the December 31, 2008 deadline. Another issue that requires consideration is whether any amount of fines paid by the offending corporations could ever compensate for the lives being cut short by the polluting flares.

''Are there other reasons for gas flaring to persist in Nigeria besides the inability of the politicians to see that reckless exploitation of resources is not in the best interest of the nation? Could it be that vested interests in high and low places prefer business as usual as long as they receive personal benefits?

''From our brief glimpse at the colonial and neo-colonial conspiracy to keep the gas flares ablaze in Nigeria, someone has had to bear the costs in order to maintain business as usual. This has mainly been possible through the externalisation of costs of pollution from the value chain. This externalisation conceals the costs of pollution so that they do not appear in the market price of the commodity. These externalised costs constitute profits or free benefits to the corporate producer. However, these costs do not disappear. They are imposed on poor and are the unacknowledged subsidies. They are uncompensated costs to communities and workers who suffer the loss of resources and health damaged by pollution and other forms of environmental degradation.

''The loss of fisheries, farmlands, fresh water sources and dispossession of land through instruments like the Land Use Act (1978) are simply externalised costs that have been conveniently kept out of the accounting books even though there are laws that ought to provide a remedy to this profligacy. Rather than devoting resources to halt the destruction of livelihoods of the poor, we note a strong political will and allocation of resources to enforce further dispossession''.

On the impacts of gas flaring, the environmental rights network said they are glaring and that the Nigerian oil industry joint venture partners cannot claim to be ignorant of it.

''The health impacts of air pollution spreads across a wide area, and those who rely on locally produced food - whether from their own production or bought at market - risk contamination. At the global scale, the emissions of carbon dioxide and methane from Nigeria’s flares make a substantial contribution to climate change and the costs will mainly fall most heavily on the poor. Gas flaring has been a huge bar against efforts at the human capital development of the Niger Delta through disease and related impacts.

''Life expectancy in the Niger Delta is markedly lower than what obtains elsewhere in Nigeria. It stands at about 40 years on the average. This is not surprising because of the toxic elements (including benzene) being released regularly into the atmosphere. Diseases related to gas flaring include asthma, bronchitis, cancers, blood disorders and skin diseases. Obviously building a health centre in a village while poisoning the inhabitants is an evil joke of grotesque proportions.

''Apart from the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, gas flares are said to release some 45.8 billion kilowatts of heat are into the atmosphere of the Niger Delta from gas flared daily. As a result of this incineration of the environment, gas flaring has raised temperatures and rendered large areas uninhabitable. When nitrous and sulphur oxides from the flares mix with atmospheric moisture the result is acid rain. Acid rains wreak havoc on the environment – destroying crops, roofs and impacting human health.

''Continued degradation in the form of spills and gas flares render the Niger Delta extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change with a projected loss of 50% ability to produce cereals by the year 2020 that would rise to 80% loss by 2050. This is worse than any armed conflict.

''It is common to see women in drying kpokpo garri and fish at flare sites, bearing the searing heat and reaping a benefit of snacks dried by the infernal flames. The oil corporations may count this as an economic benefit to the people but the truth is that the products of these processes, the kpokpo garri and the dried fish are all poisoned and harmful to human health.

''It is amazing that neither the corporations nor the state have deemed it fit to halt the practice of processing food items in the heat of the toxic flames. This is not community development and there is no rational explanation for this assault on the health of the people. This destructive activity must be halted. Government owes the people a duty to assist in the provision of safe dryers that could easily be solar powered''. ENDS


© Scoop Media

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