Gas flaring and Nigerian political conspirators (2)

Gas-flaringContinued from yesterday

A LARGE amount of work has been done in the U.S. and Canada on the health effect of gas flaring. There are statistics in this and related environmental problems like acid rain, etc.

It is surprising that no work has been done on environmental effects of flaring in the Niger Delta – not only does the area remains relatively poor, health clinics are few; the universities in the area have no curriculum to study this, the 1OCs, the state and Federal Governments do not fund research: people continue to die with no explanation. (Some studies were done in Akwa Ibom – Ikot Obom and Eket).

A U.S. determination runs as follows: “The continued process of gas flaring has not only meant that a potential energy source – and a source of revenue – has gone up in smoke, but it is also a major contributor to acid rain.” Article 20 of 1999 Nigerian Constitution states: “The State shall protect and improve the environment and safe guard the water, air, land, forest, and wildlife in Nigeria.”

The African Chatter on Human Rights and People’s Rights of the African Union similarly protects Human Rights to a clean environment and good health.

Gas flaring has been a major issue in international tribunals which have always ruled against Nigeria. Courts decision against Shell said interalia: “Rights (which Nigeria signed) recognise the importance of a clean and safe environment that is clearly linked to economic and social rights, affect the quality of life and safety of the individual… an environment degraded and defaced by the destruction of all beauty and variety is as contrary to satisfactory living conditions and the development as the breakdown of the fundamental ecological equilibrium is harmful to physical and mental health.”

Right to a satisfactory environment, therefore, imposes clear obligation upon a Government to prevent pollution and ecological degradation, to promote conservation and to secure an ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources.

The state is under an obligation to desist from directly threatening the health and environment of its citizen – i.e. non-interventionist conduct to carry out or sponsor or tolerate any practice which violates the integrity of the individual.

Eferiekose Ukala (2011) estimated that 2.5 billion cf/d, i.e. 75% of gas produced is flared; i.e. 40% of Africa’s gas consumption, a loss of U.S $6 million per day to Nigeria revenue = over U.S.$2 billion annually: what’s the problem? Asiodu condemns the failure for 20 years to fix the price and a “Framework that incentivises the exploration gas and thus stop the development of harmful materials to human life and environment.”

The law of 1984 declared illegal all gas flaring but minister could give reprieve: today Nigeria flares 75%; 12% reinjected of its gas. All governments since 1984 should be held for criminal negligence of the health of the people and despoliation of the environment, but more important, for making Nigeria remains poor because of selfish interest.

If we were losing US$2 billion every year from 1984 that is a projected loss of over US$125 billion over the years. Admittedly some of this money would have gone to pay for the cost of gathering the gas but there would have been other benefits that would have surpassed even this, the acquisition of technical knowledge in the gas field and pipeline work and more fundamentally the provision of electricity to our people and to industry which would have quadrupled the benefits in addition to the incalculable health benefits the absence of gas flaring would bring to the people of Niger Delta.

The people of the area took Shell to court in Gbemure vs. Shell. There is however, a legal conundrum: gas flaring violated the constitutional right to life and dignity of the people: that the gas flaring itself was unconstitutional and void.

What manner of Government do we have – a government that declared that in 1984 all gas flaring would cease; but fails to uphold its own laws; changes its mind – issue stoppage dates of 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 etc.

when citizens take Shell to court to meet its obligations, the Nigerian Government sits still: after all, it owns 55% of Shell – so it is the Government that is in the dock.

Why should big Federal Government hide behind Shell to perpetrate an illegality which the Government itself promulgated? If those gas flares were in Lagos, Kano, Sokoto, Ibadan, Enugu, Onitsha, Maiduguri or Yola, I am sure they would have been put off in 1984 or soon after.

But when the sufferers are Ogonis, Ijaws, Ibibios, etc. there is no fire in the belly of the Federal Government, no political will to act. It’s all well and good to take the money from Niger Delta even at the cost of their health and the degradation of their environment.

This whole argument of gas flaring misses the point – yes it is a pollutant; but more important it is revenue. Why should the Nigerian Government even be reluctant to meet its selfish ends by stopping gas flaring and turning the gas to revenue? Who was being paid to make Nigeria lose revenue of US$125 billion? Is this not an issue worth probing? Why should Nigeria pay such deference to Shell to the detriment of its own people? Why should the Government continue to rely totally on the oil company’s stipulations? In the Gbemure case, the judge was transferred and the trial files were lost!!! A similar case had been thrown out by the court in Port Harcourt – Barr. Ikechukwu Opara vs. Shell.

New 2010 bill – too vague for the law courts to interpret or apply: “Any person who flares gas after December 31, 2010 contrary to Section 1(2) of this act commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable to conviction and pay a penalty which shall be equal to the cost of the volume of gas flared at the international market at the date of the flaring” – a law too vague, what is the cost of gas.

How can you measure the actual amount? The fee in 1979 for gas flaring, 0.50 naira per million cubic feet. In January 1998 it was 10 per million cf (mcf) which at November 2003 exchange rate was equivalent to US$150,000 – $370,000. Annually this is the total fine for gas flaring.

But losses from flared gas according to BPE US $500-US $2.5 billion!!! Gas flaring is plagued by conflict of interest – DPR, competing jurisdiction – FEPA, and DPR, and is harmful to environment and to human beings. Ideally, all further exploration should stop until answers to what we do with associated gas have been given.

AG should be supplied to Bonny and West African pipeline, and to households through out West Africa.

All ministerial certificates giving reprieve to oil companies should be published; ministers must disclose how they came to the decision to give these certificates. All senior officials should stand close to a flaring site for as long as they can endure.

This would show them how harmful and untenable gas flaring can be. One thing that we have come to learn about oil and gas is that our leaders and rulers are the ones who misinform the public.

There has been a Gas master plan for long but vested interests have frustrated it.

Now the main proponent of that master plan had been sacked a few weeks ago. Even if he was not sacked, nothing would have happened without a political will which still does not exist. • Concluded • Dr. (Ambassador) Cole (OFR) is a Consultant to The Guardian Editorial Board.

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  • Chibuike

    It is very disheartening to note that government who make laws also breaks it. They make promises and puncture it before time of unveiling. Is as if there is a force that makes them to easily forget so soon.
    Should we say that the Ogonis and Ijaws are too far to be located? We’re also ceded to Cameroon? Why the fit dragging to implement this law on the prohibition of gas flaring?

  • emmanuel kalu

    VERY SAD. This problem is easily solve at least compared to major issue across the world. one solution just requires a directed by the govt. That directive is to allow gas prices to market base.This would bring in investment to end flaring. when the so called nigeria govt thinks it is helping the poor by holding down price, it effectively creative poverty. subsidies, gas price etc. second solution, create domestic demand for the gas, the country can make use of a lot of this gas. we can also export this gas to regional countries.