Failed Promises To End Gas Flaring Leading Citizens To Early Grave

Feature Article Failed Promises To End Gas Flaring Leading Citizens To Early Grave
DEC 22, 2023 LISTEN

In spite of various assurances made by successive Nigerian governments to put an end to gas flaring, their failure to do so leads to the release of harmful pollutants that negatively impact both humans and the environment in the country. This, in turn, contributes to climate change, as explored by ODIMEGWU ONWUMERE

The middle-aged lady is running in the street of Diamond Estate, Umuebulu-Etche, Rivers state with her child. The neighbors are concerned about the reason for her haste. "The weather is extremely hot and all three of my children are suffering from cough. To make matters worse, our house is situated very close to the gas flow station where gas is constantly being released and burned," the woman, who prefers not to disclose her name, shares with me that she is heading to the hospital.

Her little child is dying, having been coughing for a while, and every home remedies prove abortive to resuscitate her. Enquiry in the estate shows that both at an individual and community levels, there are significant positive connections between the burning of gas and the high rates of children experiencing cough, respiratory illnesses, and fever. Additionally, there are also high rates of stunting, wasting, and being underweight among the residents of the estate.

There are prominent residents who argue that gas flaring has a negative impact on both children and climate change due to the release of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. However, the Nigerian government's efforts to stop flaring have faced significant obstacles. Some of these individuals are employed in oil companies, giving them a deeper understanding of the issue. Moreover, the practice of venting gas without burning, commonly associated with flaring, also releases methane, the second most significant greenhouse gas.

“Gas flaring results in the emission of pollutants that are detrimental to both humans and the environment in the country,” one of the people says.

Ranking high on index of unfulfilled promises

Nigeria is ranked as the seventh country with the highest flaring rates globally, indicating that there are several other countries, including Venezuela, the United States, and Iran, with even higher flaring rates, as stated by the World Bank. The Diamond estate, located in the Niger Delta, is widely recognized for the pollution caused by oil production. Experts have linked conflicts in the Niger Delta region to various factors, such as ethnicity, economy, and the environment, specifically concerns regarding the activities of the oil industry.

According to analysts, gas flaring is frequently carried out for economic purposes, as it proves to be a more cost-effective method of disposing of the gas compared to alternative approaches. However, despite being a less lucrative and potentially hazardous byproduct of the industry, gas flaring emits harmful pollutants like sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, leading to environmental problems like acid rain and the release of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change.

Health Implications of the failed promises

The Diamond estate, which has a population of over five thousand residents, is at risk of being exposed to harmful byproducts such as carbon monoxide. These byproducts, according to sources, not only pollute the air but are also associated with health issues such as cancer, child deformities, lung damage, and skin problems.

Many people believe that if the Federal government were to rigorously enforce the 2018 regulation, it would deter companies from emitting gas. However, the Nigerian government has not yet made investments in the required infrastructure for gas production, transportation, and storage. Even though the Petroleum Industry Act was finally enacted in August 2021 after numerous delays, it does not explicitly prohibit gas flaring. Instead, it obliges oil field operators to submit a 'natural gas flare elimination and monetization plan' within one year of acquiring an operating license.

Authorities aware of people’s ill-health

The authorities are aware that flaring results in the emission of substantial quantities of powerful greenhouse gases, including methane, black soot, and nitrous oxide. However, venting, which is even more detrimental to the environment than flaring, has not received sufficient attention, leading to a long-standing environmental problem that has grave consequences for climate change.

Despite promises and efforts to stop this practice, the ongoing flaring of natural gas in the country has contributed to environmental degradation and worsened climate change. This highlights the environmental, social, and economic consequences associated with this ongoing challenge.

Economic consequences associated with this ongoing challenge

For instance, as per the World Bank, gas flaring resulted in a $20 billion loss for the global economy in 2018. In Nigeria, PwC, PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited, a multinational professional services brand of firms, operating as partnerships under the PwC brand, approximates that the Nigerian economy suffered a loss of N233 billion ($761.6 million) due to gas flaring, which is equivalent to 3.8% of the total global costs in 2018. Furthermore, the environmental impact of gas flaring is estimated at N28.

According to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, data shows that the Federal Government lost an estimated N843 billion to gas flaring from January 2022 to August 2023. Despite global pressure and domestic pledges to halt gas flaring, the practice continues due to several factors, including difficulties in regulations, economic factors, and limitations in infrastructure. Nigeria, being one of Africa's largest oil-producing nations, frequently burns off associated natural gas during crude oil extraction.

A common practice in Nigeria
This process, which is called gas flaring, has been a prevalent practice in Nigeria's oil fields for numerous years, resulting in significant environmental and health problems, such as the emission of greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4).

According to sources, these gases are infamous for trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere and amplifying the greenhouse effect, leading to global warming.

Specialists affirm that the continuous release of greenhouse gases from gas flaring in Nigeria actively contributes to climate change on both local and global scales.

Gas flaring in Nigeria's Niger Delta has been ongoing since the 1950s, with multinational oil companies freely emitting CO2 and various pollutants into the atmosphere. To put an end to this illegal practice, the Gas Flaring (Prohibition and Punishment) Bill was presented to the Senate in 2016 for consideration and potential enactment into law.

The Impact of Failed Promises
Some experts are expressing concerns that the effects of gas flaring on climate change, go beyond just environmental issues. It also impacts vulnerable communities like the Diamond estate by altering weather patterns, increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, and disrupting ecosystems.

Furthermore, the rising global temperatures can worsen existing problems such as water scarcity, food insecurity, and public health risks. Despite promises made by Nigerian governments and multinational oil companies to stop gas flaring, progress has been slow and inconsistent.

Efforts to regulate gas flaring have faced difficulties in implementation, including lacking enforcement mechanisms, limited monitoring capabilities, and a lack of transparency in reporting emissions.

Failed bills aimed to prohibit gas flaring

But the bill aimed to prohibit gas flaring in all oil and gas production operations, blocks, fields, onshore or offshore, as well as gas treatment plants throughout Nigeria.

It also extended its jurisdiction to cover the Exclusive Zone, Free Trade Zones, land within Nigeria, and territorial waters. The bill successfully passed its second reading in March 2017, and on Wednesday, May 31, 2017, the Committee invited industry stakeholders and the general public to participate in a public hearing. The multinational oil companies continued to flare gas, despite the increase in gas flare penalty to $2 per 1000scf by October 2, 2018.

The then Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, accused the oil companies of not paying the required penalties for gas flaring, resulting in a loss of billions of dollars in government revenue by January 31, 2018. Meanwhile, a news report on November 2, 2018, particularly in the Vanguardnewspaper, titled "Senate ready to pass gas flaring prohibition bill – Lawmaker," quoted Sen. Bassey Albert, the then Chairman of the Senate Committee on Gas, stating that the Senate planned to pass the Gas Flaring Prohibition Bill before the year ended. According to Sen. Bassey Albert, the Senate aimed to pass the Gas Flaring Prohibition Bill by the end of the year.

Unrealistic to achieve zero percent gas-flaring?

Oil and gas companies in Nigeria have not stopped gas-flaring because they believe it is unrealistic to achieve zero percent gas-flaring, given the government's ineffective approach to addressing the issue. In 1969, General Yakubu Gowon, as the Head of State, allegedly gave oil operators a five-year ultimatum to cease gas flaring, but they did not comply.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria declared oil flaring illegal in 2005, despite it being banned in 1984 and deemed unconstitutional. However, companies in the Niger Delta have only reduced gas flaring by 10% since 2007. Although Nigerians had high hopes when the National Assembly set a deadline of December 31st, 2012 for oil exploration companies to end gas flaring in all oil fields in Nigeria, their expectations were not met.

Supporters of the government argued against the outcry to stop gas flaring in Nigeria, pointing out that other countries like Russia emit more greenhouse gases and are considered developed nations.

How many are traumatized?
Gas flaring in Nigeria significantly contributes to climate change through the release of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Burning natural gas releases large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, with methane being particularly potent as a greenhouse gas.

Those who have a better understanding believe that in order to tackle this issue, Nigeria must enhance its infrastructure, create new technologies, enforce regulations, encourage collaboration among stakeholders, and encourage alternative uses for flared gas. By implementing these approaches, Nigeria has the potential to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, safeguard the environment, and stimulate economic growth.

It is concerning to see how many residents of Diamond estate are experiencing trauma as a result of broken promises to stop gas flaring. The consequences of this extend beyond just climate change, causing localized environmental degradation near oil fields, soil contamination, air pollution, and harm to biodiversity.

The communities living near these flaring sites also face negative health effects due to exposure to air pollutants and toxic substances released during the combustion process. Moreover, the lack of progress in addressing gas flaring has further perpetuated social injustices and inequalities, as marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by environmental damage without receiving proper remedies or compensation.

This emphasizes the urgent need to comprehensively address this issue, taking into account both the environmental and social justice aspects.

· Onwumere writes from Port Harcourt. He can be reached via; [email protected]