In spite of the longstanding laws banning gas flaring in Nigeria, the activity still rages, especially in the Niger Delta region of the country. In the region, where most of the flaring occurs, residents living close to the sites have had tales of woes following the impact of gas flaring on their environment and their personal health. Besides respiratory challenges and eye irritations, there is destruction of farmlands due to acid rain.
There is also much noise, constant heat and radiating light that could lead to sleep deprivation which could degenerate into insomnia. Since flaring involves carbon dioxide and sulphur outputs, the heart and lungs can be affected leading to lungs challenges and cardiac complications, Nabbs Imegwu, a medical doctor, stated in a report.
His views are supported by a 2011 report made available by Environmental Rights Action (ERA) which said gas flaring releases nitrogen oxides and other substances such as benzene and xylene which are known to cause cancers. The report explains that these pollutants can affect communities even 30km away from the flare locations.
While gas flaring has officially been declared unlawful in Nigeria since 1984, the Nigeria government has continually allowed gas flaring to go unhindered while the oil firms pay fines for flaring gas. Although oil firms say they are working to reduce gas flaring, reports indicate that gas flaring has increased and continue to increase in Nigeria.
Reports reveal that gas flaring in the Niger Delta will take more years to end than anticipated by the average Nigerian. This is so because, besides the unwillingness of the oil firms to stop gas flaring, the fines being collected from them by the federal government against implementing the law banning gas flaring is an added boost to the continuity of gas flaring.
Government’s inability to enforce the law banning gas flaring, in the view of many, is attributed to weak institutions of government and Nigeria’s dependence on oil revenues, a development which has given oil firms the strength to continue in the pollution and destruction of the environment with impunity. Reports also show that there are about 100 gas flare sites in the Niger Delta, some of which have been in existence since the early 1950s without any political will to bring them to a halt.
Investigation also shows that in most countries of the world, gas is collected and used to generate power for the people but not so in Nigeria. It is estimated that in Nigeria not less than $2.5bn gas is flared annually. This has made Nigeria second highest gas flaring country in the world beside Russia in the Asian continent.
According to data obtained from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria lost up to N173.76billion to gas flaring in 2014. The NNPC in its Annual Statistical Bulletin, for 2014, disclosed that oil and gas firms in the country flared 289.6 billion standard cubic feet (SCF) of gas in Nigeria in 2014.
Flare offenders, the report reveals, comprise the multinational oil companies which are the worst in terms of quantity, as they flared 211.836 billion SCF of gas, representing 11.2 per cent of their total gas production of 2.11 trillion SCF.
Production Sharing Contract, PSC companies followed as they flared 66.12 billion SCF of gas. Sole Risk/Independent oil companies produced 9.71 billion SCF of gas, utilized 1.85 billion SCF and flared 7.86 billion SCF, representing 424.5 per cent of the total gas produced in the subsector.
Similarly, Marginal Fields companies flared 3.78 billion SCF. Chevron Nigeria Limited, CNL -53.6 billion SCF, Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC – 51.92 billion SCF, Mobil Producing Nigeria – 42.86 billion SCF; Nigeria Agip Oil Company, NAOC – 35.79 billion SCF; Addax Petroleum Development Company – 35.6 billion SCF; Total Exploration and Production – 22.78 billion SCF; Total Upstream Nigeria 18.73 billion SCF; Esso – 4.517 billion SCF; Chevron Texaco – 4.43 billion SCF; Amni Petroleum – 3.87 billion SCF of gas.
Economic experts have condemned the Nigerian government for being only interested in maximizing the monetary profits from oil production at the detriment of the people living in the area where the oil is produced and gas flared. Oil companies, it is believed, find it more economically convenient to flare the natural gas and pay the inconsequential fine than to re-inject the gas back into the oil wells or convert to electricity for the people in the area.
Various legislative measures to curb gas flaring in Nigeria have been in place since 1969. Since 1984 it has been illegal to flare gas in Nigeria without the written permission of the Minister of Petroleum Resources. The current penalties for gas flaring in Nigeria officially stand at $3.50 per 1000 standard cubic feet (SCF).
This is why oil and gas bearing communities in the Niger Delta are not happy with oil firms operating in the volatile region. The communities have expressed displeasure over the manner in which the firms flare gas and abandon the people to their fate. They are also more displeased with the manner in which the federal government and the Department of Petroleum Resources collect fines from oil firms involved in gas flaring.
They have argued that the federal government which enacted the law against gas flaring and criminalizes the act has failed to sum up the political will to implement the law, but rather goes behind to collect fines from oil firms and allow gas flaring to go unhindered and the community dwellers bear the brunt of the action of government.
Major oil bearing communities in the Niger Delta, with specific reference to Ndokwa West and Ukwuani in Delta are bearing the burden of the activities of the oil firms. A leader in Obodougwa, a community hosting Energia Oil in Delta, is an example of a community under the pains of gas flaring in the region. Besides Obodougwa, Ebedei community in Ukwuani is another example of a community in pains. These communities, among others in the Niger Delta, are in pains over the impact of gas flaring.
Leaders and members of the communities gave shocking details of the pains they are going through as gas flaring continues unabated. They argued that the federal government and the DPR are being insensitive to the plights of rural dwellers. The communities stated the impact of gas flaring on all aspects of their lives including health, farming, water and the environment. They insisted that the federal government must stop the collection of fines from the oil firms and implement the laws against gas flaring or employ the fines collected from the firms to develop the communities in the gas flaring areas.
Leaders of Obodougwa and Ebedei said that various petitions had been written to the presidency and the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources but no response has been made, noting that when they confront the oil firms, the companies had defended their continuous gas flaring on the ground that they have paid fines to the federal government and the DPR. Hence, gas flaring has continued and the community people continue to feel the heat while the money goes to the coffers of the federal government.
They expressed their helplessness even as their leaders in the National and State Assemblies have failed to make recommendations to end the menace. This is so because they are alleged to be benefitting from the oil largesse, hence they described the situation as painful with solution likely still in the woods. The Obodougwa Community Secretary, Pastor Olise Benedict, told our reporter that “our years of farming have nothing to show for it. Our maize and cassava are not growing. We see the pains all over our bodies. Our people have emaciated because of the smoke that goes into the air and falls on us. We plant yam and maize, they don’t survive, even our cassava has failed to yield. You see the stem standing but nothing underneath it.
“Many of us are partially blind because of the smoke emanating from this gas. This thing is killing our people and no one is helping us to stop it. We have written petitions to the federal government but no response from them. The most recent was sent last year October. When we go to the oil companies they will tell us they have paid fines to the federal government, we become helpless. Then they will tell us to stay action”.
Some of the community elders in Delta also told our reporter that they have been suffering from the negative impact of the gas flaring. Chief Ifuwa Agbaye, a 65 years old man, reeled out challenges that communities in proximity to gas flaring zones are passing through. He said many diseases go with the gas flaring which he listed to include blindness among the elderly.
Humphrey Uzuakpundu, Special Assistant to Governor Okowa, said that the effect of gas flaring is enormous on the communities. “Our problem is how to get to the people in charge. Our water is spoiled, we can’t sleep at night because of excessive heat. Our health is also not okay because of gas flaring”, he stated. Accusing fingers have continually been pointed on the federal government as sole beneficiaries of the oil largesse whereas host communities are groaning in pains.
This is even as Henry Enwelikwu, another community member, called on the federal government to declare a state of emergency on gas flaring in the region. He said the issue of compensating a community to give way for gas flaring unhindered should not be given consideration. He said representatives of the Niger Delta people in the National Assembly are not keying into the need to bring gas flaring to a dead end, consequently, gas flaring continues unabated.
Across the Niger Delta region, woeful tales have become the lot of the communities whose farm lands, vegetation, water bodies and the general environment have been badly devastated by the impact of gas flaring. It has also affected the people’s health as varied diseases accompany gas flaring in the area.
Rev. Edward Obi of National Coalition on Gas Flaring and Oil Spill in the Niger Delta gave vivid details of the working of gas flaring in the region. He said the impact of the gas leads to acid rain which cannot be useful for whatever purpose. “Rain water in gas flaring areas cannot be taken, the gas we breathe in can cause cancer. All over the world, it has been agreed that gas flaring should stop and we have agreed to work to make it stop in Nigeria. Rather than burning the gas, it should be converted to generate electricity for the people in the affected areas.
“It pains me that communities in the Niger Delta are living in this condition for the past years. We, in the civil society, are concerned over the impact of gas flaring. The oil companies are aware that there is gas in the villages but rural communities in the region are as poor as any other village in the third world countries. I begin to wonder how one can be sitting on top of gas and be as poor, dirty and suffering as church rats. There are some communities in the Niger Delta that for over 40 years do not differentiate between day and night because of gas flaring’, Rev. Obi, a Port Harcourt based human rights activist, said.
Also, Dr. Michael Uzoigwe of Facility for Oil Sector Transparency and Reforms, said within the next 10 years, communities in the gas flaring areas could be wiped out due to the impact of the gas. He lamented the fact that government has made several policies against gas flaring but it lacked the political will to implement the policies and compel oil firms to end gas flaring.
Faith Nwadishi, another human rights activist, said concerted efforts have been made to make government and oil firms be committed to ending gas flaring but government has rather resorted to collecting fines while gas flaring goes unhindered in the region. She said governments at all levels must wake up to their responsibilities “because there is a law banning gas flaring. A law has been passed which criminalizes gas flaring. But rather than implementing the law, the federal government goes around collecting fines from the oil firms. And the oil firms see it cheaper to pay fines than end gas flaring”.
Nwadishi further said: “Right from day one, a company is not expected to flare gas the way they flare it in Nigeria. They are only supposed to do operational flare but they have refused to obey the law because the government that passed the law is not willing to implement the law it passed. They collect the fines and they do not return it to develop the communities. We cannot have a law that says gas flaring is evil and we have a government that encourages firms to continue gas flaring and collect fines from them. This is injustice and it cannot continue.”