Gas flaring and Nigerian political conspirators (1)

Gas flare... a major problem in the Niger Delta region

Gas flare… a major problem in the Niger Delta region

MORE gas is flared in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world. 2.5 billion cubit feet is wasted annually which is equivalent to 40% of all of Africa’s natural gas consumption. The general loss to Nigeria is about $2.5 billion yearly. Moreover, the flaring contains toxins, which affect the health of the local communities, causing premature deaths, and respiratory illness, and cancer. The culprits of gas flaring are Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Texas, Agip, and Total. In 1984 gas flaring was made illegal.

However, the Associated Gas Reinjection Act of 1979 allowed General Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) and International Oil Companies (10Cs) to sign a non-binding agreement to stop gas flaring in 2008. It was suggested that there should be an end in 2008 to all explorations until new facilities are built to stop gas flaring which was deemed to be an appalling waste of resources. “The history of gas flaring is a story of appalling carelessness, greed, corruption, double standards and environmental racism. Even Lord Home said that the British could be reproached”, according to an international environmental watch dog.

Why did gas flaring continue? The British knew about the gas flaring, from the beginning it believed that Nigerians would raise the issue to embarrass Shell, according to the British Trade Delegation report in 1963. North Sea gas flaring had by then decreased to about 2% thus confirming the charge of double standards. Communities and Nigerians were bribed to keep quiet and not to challenge the 10Cs. Traditionally, Oil Companies do not like to find gas associated with oil: they like to find gas field, oil field. Associated Gas has to be gathered or flared. Associated Gas flaring was frowned upon in most parts, of the world: In Nigeria flaring was flourishing: Mr. Omiyi, the MD of Shell, said that with oil production of some 2.2 million barrels per day, about 2.2 billion Standard Cubic Feet of associated gas, was produced everyday, i.e. 1000 standard cubic feet (SCF) is produced by one barrel of crude. 37 billion cubic metres, which is daily production of Associated Gases, could produce 200 tetra watts hours of electricity, which is equivalent to 50% of all Africa power consumption; or twice sub Saharan consumption (excluding S.A). Nigerian gas flare is four times higher than the nearest African country, Algeria. In 2004, World Bank said Nigeria flared 75% of all gas produced. Why is the Nigerian Government not able or willing to stop this? Why is there no political will to achieve this?

Bottom line is Government has never been serious about stopping gas flaring. Whenever the issue comes up, Government is reminded about the cost of stopping gas flaring that the Government must necessarily bear: the cost of such stoppage, the cost of gas gathering, and the infrastructure to go with it. This is a perfect blackmail that the Government cannot escape.

What needed to have been done since 1957 was to have an agreement or proposal for the usage of associated gas and how to market and pay for it? This was what happened in the North Sea for Great Britain and Norway.

The exploration of crude should have been followed as an integral part, with the exploration of gas. Had that been done in 1958 we would not be arguing about whether it is economic or not in 2015. The question of gas production highlights once again Nigeria’s inability to deal with figures. The Government in 2000 announced that gas flaring would stop on the following dates: Chevron 2008, Shell 2008, Texaco 2005/2006, Agip 2005, and Exxon/Mobil 2004. In that same year August 2000, Dr. Imeh Okupido announced that all the 10Cs had agreed to end gas flaring by 2004. In November 2006, Government announced that all gas flaring would end 2010. Vision 2010 gave a date of 2008. In March 2004, the World Bank said Nigeria had announced that stoppage date of gas flaring would be 2008. What was glaring about all these dates, apart from the obvious contradictions, are the multiple sources of information showing a lack of coherence. What to do with the gas? There were no plans. The preferred method was gas infraction – why was there no plan to harvest such a valuable commodity?

Other international lobby groups and environmentalists insist that gas flaring degrades the atmosphere that is an environmental hazard, a violation of human rights and more fundamentally was a breach of the Nigerian Law of 1984 which prohibited gas flaring. That both the Government and the International Oil Companies (1OCs) should be so nonchalant and cavalier about breaking the law shows conspiracy between Government and the oil companies: it further shows a lack of congruency and symmetry, and transparency between both principal actors. They deliberately threw in confusion to mask their complicity in their determination to continue this illegal enterprise; presumably receiving backhanders in doing so.

Plans for the end of gas flaring include the following: supplying gas to NLNG, Afam Project – the rest of shell gas was said to be dedicated to NLNG; Chevron promised in its phase 2 and 3 of development of GTL project. Exxon promised reinjection and storage. Agip gas was to go to NLNG, and IPP Power plants, at Eleme, and Kwale and more reinjection. Other plans included gas for the West African Pipeline.

Shell believed that the NLNG project was its way to solve flaring. It would seem that this was a pie-in-the -sky hope. Nigeria has many pure gas fields from which Shell has been supplying NLNG and not from the associated gas gathering facilities. The West Africa Gas Pipeline project will not use Associated Gas but rather use gas from gas fields. This is totally contrary to the hope that this pipeline will take AG.

Nigeria cannot afford not to use its AG. Gas flaring poisons communities: because it contains a cocktail of toxic substances, known as “particulate matter”, that is, benzene, toluene, xylene, and hydrogen sulfide. The Canadian Public Health Association has listed over 250 different toxins from flared gas. Breathing these causes associated asthma, respiratory symptoms, decreased lung function etc, non-lymphocytic leukemia and other blood related disorders in humans.

Can the nonchalance of the Government be due to the fact that people have no regard for those who live in the South South beyond just taking the oil? Why are our governors not even speaking about this?

• To be continued tomorrow.

• Dr. (Ambassador) Patrick Dele Cole (OFR) is a Consultant to The Guardian Editorial Board.

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