#EndGasFlaringNG: The Unspoken Dangers of Gas Flaring In Nigeria — by @Soniaryde
According to Wikipedia, Natural Gas is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, but also includes varying amounts of other higher alkanes- ethane, propane, butane, etc., and sometimes a small percentage of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and/or hydrogen sulphone. It is a very clean and safe form of energy. It is a source of energy for heating, cooking, and electricity generation; a source of fuel for vehicles and feedstock for the chemical industry.
When natural gas is produced as a byproduct of oil extraction., it is often vented or flared. When there is no infrastructure to convert this “associated gas” to productive use, it is simply burned off. Gas flaring is simply the burning of natural gas.
Gas Flaring in Nigeria
According to the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership rankings from July 2018, Nigeria is the sixth-largest gas-flaring country globally. Although gas flaring was officially banned in 1984, about 800 million standard cubic feet of gas is flared daily from approximately 144 gas flare points across Nigeria.
From 1996–2010, 356,862.5 million cubic feet of natural gas was flared in Nigeria. The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) stated in its Monthly Financial and Operations Report for November 2017 that oil companies operating in the country flared a total of 225.81 billion standard cubic feet of gas between January to November 2019, roughly translating to a loss of N127.53 billion.
Gas Flaring is prevalent in Nigeria because capturing associated gas requires expensive infrastructure, therefore, oil companies resort to gas flaring. They prefer to extract natural gas from deposits where it is found in isolation because it is cheaper. The ban in Nigeria has not been effective because oil sales are the main source of government revenue and a high number of Nigeria’s oil fields have associated gas. The only way to enforce a flaring ban would be to shut down these fields and cut off the income they provide. However, the government needs that revenue so they turn a blind eye to flaring.
Effects of Gas Flaring
In the Niger Delta, the 2 million people who live within 4 km of a gas flare bear the brunt of gas flaring. Gas flaring affects them in the following ways:
- Climate Change: Gas flaring contributes to worldwide climate change by the emission of carbon dioxide, which represents around 0.6% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and methane another potent greenhouse gas.
- Temperature: In the Niger Delta, constant gas flaring has led to a significant increase in daily temperatures which kills aquatic life, scotches or withers plants and makes life unbearable for the inhabitants, amongst many other effects.
- Effects on Agriculture: The flares give rise to atmospheric contaminants that acidify the soil, hence depleting soil nutrient. Since acidic soils do not support plant growth, farming is impossible.
- Pollution: Gas flaring leads to the emission of pollutants which are harmful to both humans and the environment. Byproducts such as carbon monoxide pollute the air and are associated with cancer, deformities in children, lung damage, skin problems etc. These pollutants also contaminate waterways making it unfit for living and consumption. Also, the constant sound of flames burning may cause noise pollution. Finally, especially at nights, the inhabitants are overexposed to the light produced when gas is flared.
- Psychological Trauma: areas, where the effects of gas flaring have stripped away the means of livelihood, have high cases of unemployment and crimes. Also, the feeling of abandonment by the country may breed resentment towards the country.
Aside from the health and environmental consequences of gas flaring, flaring gas wastes gas which could have been used for commercial purposes.
Solutions to Gas Flaring
The Federal Government has increased the gas flare penalty to $2 per 1,000 standard cubic feet of gas (SCF) for oil firms producing 10,000 barrels of oil or more per day and $0.5 per 1,000 SCF for firms producing less than 10,000 barrels of oil per day. While this is a good development, the government needs to put in place measures that will make alternatives to gas flaring cheaper and more attractive to investors.
Instead of being burnt, associated gas can be captured and either reinjected into the oil wells, liquefied (Liquefied Natural Gas), Compressed (Compressed Natural Gas), or even solidified as some researchers at the University of Port-Harcourt have proposed. In these forms, they can easily be transported for further uses.
The Federal Government can take advantage of these alternatives in the following ways:
- Gas Flare Capture: To prevent the burning of associated gas, there needs to be efficient infrastructure to capture it. The Department of Petroleum Resources recently called for investors to bid for Gas Flare Sites. The government needs to ensure that successful investors are properly screened, capable, financially equipped and monitored to ensure none of the gas is wasted.
- Power Generation: Natural gas currently powers the national electricity grid. The government needs to build local gas-fired power plants to supply power for local residential or industrial uses or for injection into the national grid. Also, power companies should be allowed to recover from their customers the costs of production.
- Focus on The Large-Scale Industrial Applications of Gas: Gas is a feedstock in the petrochemical, chemical, construction industries. Since gas is a byproduct of oil drilling, extraction costs are already reduced. Hence, it is a cheaper resource for these industries. The government should implement favorable policies that encourage these industries to purchase associated gas.
- Ban Enforcement: The government needs to enforce the payment of the gas flaring penalties and not accepting any tradeoff. If the government takes a stand to clamp down on gas flaring, the oil companies will increase their efforts too. A non-functioning oil well won’t generate revenue for the oil companies too.
- Biological Remediation: In areas already adversely affected by gas flaring, the government needs to increase remediation efforts and make use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to identify flare sites and track cleanup efforts.
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This article was submitted by Sonia Onyenaturuchi Ugwunna, for the Gas Flaring In Nigeria Essay Competition.