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a valuable resource goes up in smoke

When crude oil is extracted it often comes with associated gas which must be separated from the crude to produce fine, export quality oil. In Nigeria this separation is mainly done by burning the associated gas, otherwise known as gas flaring.

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Oil companies have been burning this gas and polluting the atmosphere for years. The growing impact on people and the environment brought about a World Bank joint public/private global partnership in 2002 to find ways to reduce gas flaring.

 

According to satellite research, worldwide, 168 billion cubic meters of natural gas is flared annually. Nigeria accounted for 23 billion cubic meters, second only to Russia. About 13 per cent of global flaring originates from Nigeria.

 

The greenhouse gas emissions through gas flaring are around 400 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents a year. The amount of flared gas is equivalent to 25 per cent of US gas consumption and 30 per cent of EU gas consumption.

 

Among the oil producing countries Nigeria boasts the tenth largest proven natural gas reserves, produces over two million barrels of crude oil per day, and has been earning, over the years, about $20 billion from oil revenues annually.

 

Flaring has been taking place since the early 1960s in the Niger Delta and offshore. At present, over 100 flare sites still emit the noxious gases. It is estimated that through gas flaring about $2.5 billion in government revenues are lost annually and $72 billion for the period 1970-2006.


By using the gas for energy, instead of flaring, much of the acute power needs in Nigeria and surrounding countries could be fulfilled.

 

Environmental and health impacts

gas-flare-1Agip gas flares in Nigeria. © Elaine Gilligan / Friends of the EarthIn addition to greenhouse gases, the noxious substances resulting from gas flaring includes sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carcinogenic substances such as benz[a]pyrene, dioxin, benzene and toluene.

 

Gas flaring is a major contributor of greenhouse gases and is therefore directly contributing to climate change. Power generation by coal in South Africa and gas flaring in the Niger Delta are by far the main sources of carbon dioxide emissions in Sub-Saharan Africa (south of the Sahara). Continuation of gas flaring is a direct negation of the determined stand taken by nations of the world to fight climate change in practical terms.

 

For communities next to gas flares, the toxic cocktail may have serious health impacts in the form of respiratory illnesses, asthma, blood disorders, cancer, painful breathing and chronic bronchitis. Flared gas has also been identified as a cause of acid rains that pollute creeks and streams, damage vegetation and even the corrosion of people's roofs in the Niger Delta.

 

Culprits in the flare game

gas-flare-5Agip gas flares in Nigeria © Alison Dilworth / Friends of the EarthAll oil prospecting companies in Nigeria are guilty of gas flaring. The biggest culprits, however, are Shell Petroleum
Development Company (SPDC), ExxonMobil and Chevron. These three companies are the operators of most of Nigerian oil production whilst Total and Agip are minor players.

 

The listed companies recently cited insecurity in the Niger Delta and poor funding, among others as factors
militating against achieving zero-flares in the Niger Delta.

 

Shell had previously said it would end flares in all its production facilities by 2007 but did not have any concrete plan of action to this effect except the expansion of its Liquefied Natural Gas project – the principal avenue to be used to monetize the associated gas currently being flared.

 

ExxonMobil had said it would end flares in 2004 and earmarked the East Area Gas Project (EAGP) as the
principal project to achieve this. Like Shell, nothing concrete has come out of this.

 

Chevron said it would achieve zero flares in its facilities by 2006, hinging its attainment on the Escravos Gas
Project Phase 2 and 3. Like its partners in crime, it has also come up with the lame excuse of insecurity for
failing to meet this target.

Flare-out deadlines: a moving target

gas-flare-6A gas flare in Nigeria. © Kadir van Lohuizen/NOORThe first attempt at forcing oil corporations operating in the Niger Delta to end flares was in 1969 when the administration of General Yakubu Gowon ordered them to put in place facilities to utilize associated gas within five years.


Five years later and the oil companies had done nothing to enable gas gathering. The date was then moved to 1979 by the same government. The inability of the oil companies to meet the new date prompted the government to announce 1984 as date for zero flaring. Non compliance would mean a fine for companies who defaulted.

 

In addition, an Associated Gas Re-Injection Act of 1979 was introduced, demanding that oil corporations
operating in Nigeria should produce detailed plans for gas utilization as well as guaranteeing zero flares by January 1984, unless they had a case by case exemption obtainable from the minister.

 

By 1983 the oil multinationals began to proffer their excuses as to why they would not be able to meet the 1984 deadline. Once again the deadlines shifted and continued to do so until very recently.

 

In response to local and international pressure, the Federal Government again pledged to halt gas flares in Nigeria and set January 1, 2008 as the zero flare date. For the first time it also raised the prospect of punitive action for any breach.

 

Alas, on December 17, 2007 the deadline was moved to December 31, 08. Friends of the Earth Nigeria placed adverts in the Nigerian press ahead of the deadline urging the government to hold the oil companies to the deadline and announcing 'the world is watching.' Sadly they didn't listen and another deadline has passed them by.

 

What the court says

On November 14 2005 a Federal High court sitting in Benin ordered Shell to stop gas flaring in Iwhrekan, saying it violates the people’s fundamental right to life and dignity of human person. The judge ruled that gas flaring is a "gross violation" of the constitutionally-guaranteed rights to life and dignity, which include the right to a "clean poison-free, pollution-free healthy environment".

 

There can be no more excuses. We must act in large numbers and demand the government of Nigeria brings about an end to gas flaring once and for all. Do it now!

 

 

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