The Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr Maikanti Baru, recently, announced a three-point strategy to bring an end to gas flaring in the country in the next two years. He said that the multi-pronged approach taken by the group would ensure a sustainable solution to the historical problem of flaring.
The announcement has rekindled hope among Nigerians that the age-long unhealthy practice could come to an end soon after many years of paying lip service to ending it by past administrations in the country. We believe, this time round, that the government will match words with action, take the bull by the horn and put an end to this menace which has caused health hazards, economic losses, environmental problems, among others to the people of Niger Delta in particular and the country as a whole.
Nigeria is one of the world’s top gas flaring nations and the Federal Government has severally promised without success to harness and market the nation’s gas resources to reduce the negative impact of gas flaring on oil-producing communities over the years.
It is worrisome that indiscriminate gas flaring has wreaked serious havoc in oil-producing communities of the Niger Delta. The health hazards it has caused to the people has remained a major concern.
The implication of gas flaring on human health are all related to the exposure of those hazardous air pollutants emitted during incomplete combustion of gas flare. These pollutants are associated with a variety of adverse health impacts, including cancer, neurological, reproductive and developmental effects. Deformities in children, lung damage and skin problems. Hydrocarbon compounds are known to cause some adverse changes in haematological parameters. These changes affect blood and blood-forming cells negatively and could give rise to anaemia (aplastic), pancytopenia and leukaemia. Drilling mud and oil sometimes find their way to the streams, surface waters and land thus making them unfit for consumption nor habitable by man or animal.
Also, gas flaring contributes to climate change, which has serious implications for both Nigeria and the rest of the world. The burning of fossil fuel, mainly coal, oil and gas-greenhouse gases-has led to warming up of the world. Acid rains have also been linked to the activities of gas flaring. Corrugated roofs in the Delta region have been corroded by the composition of the rain that falls as a result of flaring. The primary causes of acid rain are emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides which combine with atmospheric moisture to form sulfuric acid and nitric acid.
According to experts, the flares associated with gas flaring give rise to atmospheric contaminants. These include oxides of Nitrogen, Carbon and Sulphur, particulate matter, hydrocarbons and ash, photochemical oxidants, and hydrogen sulphide. These contaminants acidify the soil, hence depleting soil nutrient and causes a serious hindrance for good agricultural yields.
Apart from the health and environmental consequences of gas flaring, the nation also loses billions of dollars’ worth of gas which is literally burnt off daily in the atmosphere. Much of this can be converted for domestic use and for electricity generation. By so doing, the level of electricity generation in the country could be raised to meet national demand.
However, experts claim that while they commend the Federal Government’s resolve to attain zero gas flaring in the country, the target of getting it done in two years is like a tall dream. According to the President of Nigerian Association for Energy Economics (NAEE), Prof Wumi Iledare, since the country still looks forward to the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) coming into effect, and the uncertainties that may emerge as the country prepares for a major election, 2030, which was earlier set to end gas flaring, could be more feasible.
Also, former President, Nigeria Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE), said that fines attached to gas flaring were not enough deterrent, thereby making it attractive to flare than to harness. Gas flare penalty still stands at a paltry N10/Mscf (equivalent to $0.03).
It would be commendable if an end is brought to flaring in two years. The hopes of many have already been dashed by missed targets in the past. We hope that this time round, the government would not move the goalpost, but keep to its words. Gas flaring has been outlawed in a lot of countries. Time to stop it in Nigeria is now.