How to end Gas Flaring in NigeriaNigeria
The vulnerability of the people of the Niger Delta to the continuous flaring of gas over the decades by the multinational oil companies reveals, yet again, the Federal Government's lack of political will to enforce relevant laws on the issue.
It also confirms the dismal failure of regulatory authorities to perform their statutory functions, worsened by endemic corruption. From Obunagha, Kolo Creek and Obama villages, all in Bayelsa State, through Ebocha in Rivers State to Ekpene Obo community in Cross River State, it is a similar tale of the debilitating health hazards posed by gas flared from the flow stations. We feel a pang of revulsion each time sickly victims are shown on television screens, bemoaning their preventable woes.
Yet, as far back as January 1979, there was in place the Associated Gas Re-injection Act No 99, Cap A25 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, of the same year. Characteristic of the defunct military government's tardiness on such a delicate matter, however, there was no enforcement. On January,1, 1984 a similar provision was made in the principal Act for oil companies, which was later amended on December 31,2008. Meanwhile, residents of the oil-producing communities have continued to inhale the poisonous gases while those who are supposed to act collude with the oil companies by recurrently shifting the goal post on the deadline for stopping the menace of gas flaring.
On this score, we commend the apparent determination of the House of Representatives, for perfecting the legislative framework pegging the deadline for gas flaring in Nigeria to December 31, 2012. With stiffer penalties to be meted out to oil companies that refuse to comply, reports claim that some of the firms concerned have begun moves to ensure compliance Shell Nigeria has promised to spend N300 billion to reduce gas flaring to meet the deadline. According to its Corporate Media Relations Manager, Tony Okenedo, Shell has so far spent N450 billion to install associated gas gathering infrastructure in 32 flow stations, covering half of its production. Its Gas Re-injection Development Company has embarked on a project that would cover 26 flow stations in the Niger Delta. The company blamed the delay in carrying out action earlier on militancy in the region, and lack of funds. Other oil major, notably ExxonMobil, Total and Chevron, are said to be pursuing similar policies.
Going by reports from the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, the Federal Government raked in about N1.66 billion in royalty and fines relating to gas flaring within the first three months of this year, as reported in April. The DPR also claims that gas flaring reduced from 25 billion standard cubit feet (scf) to 18 billion scf in the past one year. Much more needs to be done, however, in order to curb the disastrous effects of the evil practice.
There are indications that Nigeria lacks credible and comprehensive research data on the grave health implications and the death toll visited on Niger-Delta peoples by unmitigated gas flaring. Amongst the poisonous gases the communities inhale are particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carcinogenic (i.e. cancer-causing) substances such as benz(a)pyrene and dioxin. Others include unburned fuel compounds like benzene, toluene, xylene and hydrogen sulphide. Generally, the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) has identified not less than 250 toxins from the gas flared from fossil fuels.
On its part, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has listed the health implications of these toxins as painful breathing, coughing, aggravated asthma and chronic bronchitis. In addition, leukemia, cancer of the lungs as well as premature deaths have been linked to inhalation of these deadly gases.
A related research carried out by Ishisone (2004) on 'Gas Flaring in the Niger-Delta', and a similar study by the UNDP/World Bank, have painted a gloomy picture of the gas-flaring effects on the Niger Delta people. Not much different is the report by Climate Justice Programme and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (June 2005). Zeroing in on Bayelsa State it reveals that not less than 49 premature deaths, 4,960 respiratory illnesses and 120,000 asthma attacks per year are caused by gas flaring. Apart from these human disasters, the death of animals, including cattle, and the corroding effects of acid rain on buildings, are incalculable.
All considered, the Federal Government must take the blame for allowing its citizens to suffer, for so long, the harmful effects of oil exploration and exploitation without enforcing the legal regulations in tandem with international practice. Beyond the systemic waste and rot inherent in flaring petroleum gas, part of the gas could have been used to fire the nation's six thermal stations, and for industrial and domestic purposes. The Jonathan administration should keep up the pressure on the oil companies to meet the 2012 deadline while measures should be taken to ensure fair compensation for the helpless victims. The wrong notion should never be gain ground among new oil firms coming on stream in the sector that it is business as usual. Significant, in addition, is the need to initiate an investigative committee to fish out all those responsible for the failure to implement earlier deadlines for ending gas flaring in the industry, and bring such culprits to book.
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