Gas Flaring: Violating Fundamental Rights And Wasting The Wealth

Natural gas is a fossil fuel that contains a mix of hydrocarbon gases, mainly methane (CH4), along with varying amounts of ethane (C2H6), propane (C3 H8) and butane (C4H10). Carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen sulphide are also often present. Natural gas found in oil reservoirs is called ‘associated’ gas (AG). When it occurs alone, it is called ‘non-associated’ gas (NAG).

Oil and Gas Journal (2009) estimates that Nigeria had 184 trillion cubic feet (Tscf) of proven natural gas reserves as of January 2009 (reserves/production is estimated at 109 years)  which makes Nigeria the seventh largest natural gas reserve holder in the world and the largest in Africa.

The majority of the natural gas reserves are located in the Niger Delta with about 50/50 distribution ratio between Associated Gas (AG) and Non-Associated Gas (NAG), according to Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR).

Experts believe that that there is a lot more gas to be found in Nigeria, if companies deliberately explore for gas, as opposed to finding it by chance whilst in search of oil.

When crude oil is extracted from onshore and offshore oil wells, it brings with it raw natural gas to the surface. Gas Flaring is a means of disposing of natural gas through combustion. This is carried out with an elevated flare through the top of a pipe or stack where the burner and igniter are located. Where natural gas transportation, pipelines and infrastructure are lacking this gas is instead burned off or flared as a waste product as this is the cheapest option, particularly when gas prices are low and fines are not collected by national regulatory bodies.

When oil companies began production in the 1960s, the cheapest way to separate the identified product, crude oil, from the associated natural gas was to burn the gas. According to data from Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Annual Statistical Bulletin(ASB, 2014), oil and gas companies operating in Nigeria burn over $3.5 to $5 billion yearly from the over 257 flow stations in the Niger Delta. Specifically, the country flared about 17.15 per cent of the 95,471 metric tonnes of gas produced in June 2015 alone.  For 2014, oil and gas firms in the country flared 289.6 billion standard cubic feet (SCF) of gas, representing 11.47 per cent of the total gas produced in the country.

Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) stated in its 2015 Statistical Report that Nigeria produced 86,325.2 million standard cubic meters of gas and flared 10,736.8 million standard cubic meters in 2014. Also, NNPC disclosed that Nigeria lost up to $868.8 million, about N173.76 billion to gas flaring in 2014. At the Nigerian Gas Company’s (NGC) price of $3 per 1,000 SCF of gas at 2014 exchange rate realities, the flaring of 289.6 billion SCF of gas translated to a loss of $868.8 million, an equivalent of N173.76 billion. Specifically, the oil and gas companies produced 2.524 trillion SCF of gas, utilised 2.235 trillion SCF and flared 289.6 billion SCF.

From the NNPC’s Annual Statistical Bulletin (2014), the Joint Venture companies comprising the multinational oil companies were the worst offenders in terms of quantity, they flared 211.836 billion SCF 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, representing 19.95 per cent of their total gas production of 397.58 billion SCF.

According to NNPC, Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) was the biggest offender among companies with 53.6 billion SCF burnt in 2014. Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) followed with 51.92 billion SCF; Mobil Producing Nigeria flared 42.86 billion SCF while Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) flared 35.79 billion SCF.

Addax Petroleum Development Company burnt 35.6 billion SCF, Total Exploration and Production flared 22.78 billion SCF, Total Upstream Nigeria burnt 18.73 billion SCF, Esso flared 4.517 billion SCF, Chevron Texaco burnt 4.43 billion SCF and Amni Petroleum flared 3.87 billion SCF of gas in the year 2014.

Aside the economic waste and loss of revenue arising from gas flaring, hazardous air pollutants emitted, gas flaring have been shown to impact human health. These include oxides of Nitrogen, Carbon and Sulphur (NO2, CO2, CO, SO2), particulate matter, hydrocarbons and ash, photochemical oxidants, and hydrogen sulphide (H2S).

Humans exposed to such substances can suffer from a variety respiratory problems which have been reported amongst many children in the Delta but have apparently gone uninvestigated. These chemicals can aggravate asthma, because breathing difficulties and pain, as well as chronic bronchitis. Of particular note is that the chemical benzene which is known to be emitted from gas flares in undocumented quantities, is widely recognized as being a causative agent for leukemia and other blood related diseases (Friends of the Earth, 2004)

For instance, in Imo State, Ohaji, Egbema and Oguta communities claim that nearby flares cause acid rain which corrodes their roofing. It also acidifies the soil, hence depleting soil nutrient. Environmental reviews study conducted in 2000 showed that nutritional value of crops within gas flaring vicinity is reduced, while in some cases, there is no vegetation at all.

Despite the various ways  natural gas can be used in Nigeria, approximately 75% (by 1998), 63% (by 2000), 24.30% (by 2010) and 17.15%(2015) of the total gas output were flared.

Against the background of massive economic loss, environmental and health hazard, natural gas should and can play vital roles in the Nigerian economy. These roles include stimulant for industrial development, foreign exchange earner, and improved capacity utilization of Nigeria industries and provision of employment opportunities.

Ayoka Anthony O. (08035428236)

Programme Director, Habitatcare and Protection Initiative