Take a moment; imagine a land so blessed in bountiful natural resources, diverse cultures, beautiful water bodies and a welcoming spirit among its people. Now imagine the same land ravaged by oil spills, gas flaring and dangerous chemical contaminations, its people living in absolute poverty and riddled with diseases and the once beautiful creeks have become graveyards to numerous aquatic lives. This is the case of the Niger Delta. The region has suffered all forms ruinous damage, one of which is the issue of gas flaring.
Considering Nigeria’s dependence on crude oil and other related fossil fuels, one would have thought that gas centric legislation, development or regulation would be paramount for the Government. Gas flaring was declared illegal in Nigeria in 1984 without a sound enforcement strategy. Other legislation followed; the Environmental Impact Assessment Act in 1992, the Nigerian Gas flare Commercialization Program (NGFCP) and the adoption of the zero Routine Gas Flaring Program of the World Bank. These have done little to end gas flaring or the consequent depletion of life and environment. In 1996, in the Government proffered ‘Vision 2010’ report, where 2008 was set as the year to completely end gas flaring. In 2008, the target was moved again to 2020. The continuous delay does not only reflect a lack of consideration to the lives involved but it raises a sign of concern as 2020 is fast approaching.
The 2018 Flare Gas Regulations issued by President Muhammadu Buhari in his capacity as the Minister of Petroleum Resources prohibits flaring and venting of gas except on receipt of a certificate issued by the minister in limited circumstances. The law states that where 10,000 barrels or more of oil is produced per day, the producer would be charged $2.00 per 28.317 standard cubic meters (one thousand cubic feet). Companies have resorted to paying these fines instead of actively reducing gas flaring since these meager fines cost less than creating infrastructure to curtail gas flaring. Between 2001 and 2016, oil productions in Nigeria increased by 91.13% while the volume of flared gas reduced by only 38%. In the United States, between 2014 and 2018, oil production increased by 7% while gas flaring reduced by 20%. Evidently, companies in Nigeria are more likely to put in more effort in producing more crude oil than in eliminating gas flaring. Nigeria currently flares 14.33% of its annual associated gas production.
Gas flaring in the Niger Delta has affected the physical, chemical, biological, atmospheric and social environment. A study carried out in Rivers State in 2015 confirmed the high concentration of carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and an assortment of metals. The numerical values of pollutants all exceeded WHO standards in alarming degrees. Similar studies have been done in Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Delta States with almost identical results. According to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), approximately 600,000 people die annually in Africa as a result of air pollution resulting from oil exploration. By deduction, since 40% of all gas flared in Africa is flared in Nigeria; the Niger Delta is host to the bulk of the fatalities.
The gases emitted during the flaring in the atmosphere contain poisonous substances such as dioxins, benzene, toluene, nitrogen and sulphur dioxide. These poisonous gasses cause contaminations to air, impacts surface and ground water, soil and vegetation. The substances corrode buildings, vehicles, crumble structures and kills wild life and vegetation. Most importantly, it results in terrible health problems for the people of the region; health problems such as blood cancers and abnormalities, insomnia, weakness, brain damage and tumors, asthma and bronchitis, skin diseases and lung swellings, sexual reproductive problems, pre and post natal complications, physical deformities in both adults and children and finally death. Dr Furo Green, a consultant at Braitewaite Memorial Hospital who was interviewed by Vanguard in April 2018 expressed that 6000 of Rivers state residents are at the risk of developing cancer. It is was estimated by the same publication that in 15 to 20 years, if gas flaring was not stopped in Rivers State, 10 out of every 100 persons would develop cancer.
The government has to be held accountable for the strengthening and enforcement of penalties, legal frameworks necessary for the execution of the National Gas Plan. The issue is not just a debate on the numerous declarations by the government, lack of enforcement of environmental laws or the consequent malpractices of the multinational companies. The fundamental issue is that people are dying; Men, women, youth and children. Those left standing have lost their means of sustenance, their homes and their loved ones. Children die before they are born, children are born deformed, adults die from resulting illnesses and leave their children orphaned, youths die prematurely from illnesses and others lose the means to fend for themselves.
It is not a choice to deliberate on. It is urgent that we end Gas flaring now!