The scourge of gas flaring!
Gas flaring is the burning of natural gas associated with crude oil through an elevated vertical chimney called a flare and burnt off at its tip. DrillBytes brings to the front burner, this week, the pains of the scourge and the gains of its transmogrification.
Gas flaring in oil rigs and oil wells contribute significantly to greenhouse gases in our environment. Nigeria flares 17.2 billion m3 of natural gas per year in conjunction with the exploration of crude oil. This, according to the Nigerian Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association, translates to $2.5B yearly! This high level of gas flaring is equal to approximately one quarter of the current power consumption of the African continent.
Even though, we have grown to be fairly dependent on oil, and it has become the center of current development and economic activities, we rarely consider how oil exploration and exploitation processes create environmental health and social problems in local communities near oil producing fields. From an economic perspective, the Nigerian government’s main interest in the oil industry, over the years, is to maximize its monetary profits from oil production. Oil companies find it more economically expedient to flare the natural gas and pay an insignificant fine than to re-inject the gas back into the oil wells.
According to reports done by several scholars, gas flaring contributes to climate change, which has serious implications for Nigeria and the rest of the world. The burning of fossil fuel, mainly coal, oil and greenhouse gases has led to warming up the world and is projected to get worse in the years ahead. According to the inter-governmental panel on climate change set up by the United Nations in 1988, climate change is particularly serious for developing countries.
Africa, as a continent is particularly vulnerable with limited ability to adapt. Gas flaring contributes to climate change by emission of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Venting of the gas without burning releases methane, the second main greenhouse gas and together, these gasses make up about 80 per cent of global warming to date.
In addition, acid rains have been linked to gas flaring, a rain that acidifies lakes and streams thereby damaging vegetation. The primary cause of acid rains are emissions of Sulphure dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen oxide (NO) which combine with atmospheric moisture to form Sulphuric acid (H2SO4) and Nitric acid (HNO3) respectively. Acid rains accelerate the decay of building materials and paints. Prior to falling to the earth, Sulphure dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) gases and their particulate matter derivatives, Sulphates and Nitrates, contribute to visibility degradation and harm public health.
The flares also affect agriculture negatively by giving rise to atmospheric contaminants like oxides of Nitrogen, Carbon and Sulphure (NO2, CO2, CO, SO2). These contaminants acidify the soil, hence depleting soil nutrient and reducing the nutritional value of crops within the vicinity of gas flares.
In some cases, there is no vegetation in the immediate areas of the flare due partly, to the tremendous heat that is produced and acidic nature of the soil. The implication of gas flaring on human health are all related to the exposure of those hazardous air pollutants emitted during incomplete combustion of gas flare.
These pollutants are associated with a variety of adverse health impact including cancer, reproductive and developmental effects, deformities in children, lung damage and skin problems. (Ubani E.C. and Onyejekwe I.M. “Environmental impact analysis of gas flaring in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, 2013. Ayoola T.J. “Gas flaring and its implication for environmental accounting in Nigeria, 2011.
Kindzierski, W.D. “Importance of human environmental exposure to hazardous air pollutants from gas flares, 2000. Arowolo, A.J and Adaja, I.J. “Trends in natural gas exploitation in Nigeria and its implications on the socio-economic stability and governance, 2011).
According to a report gleaned from the SweetCrude section of the Guardian Newspapers of 28th October, 2015 and based on data received from the Stakeholder Development Network, SDN supported by the National Oil Spill Detection Response Agency (NOSDRA), the value of flared gas during oil production has the potential to generate 27,000 megawatts of electricity into the national grid.
Furthermore, Nigeria releases over 16 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The report concludes that daily gas flaring in Nigeria could be used to generate power, cooking fuel and transport fuel which in turn could help host communities in setting up small scale businesses that will further drive the country’s economy.
In conclusion, gas flaring, like all man-made scourges, has nothing to offer Nigeria and its people other than sorrow, tears and blood! Ending it now, as has been submitted, has a lot to offer the country and its people. Turning this plague around by Nigeria’s ministers of Petroleum Resources and Power with sufficiently deterrent laws enacted by the country’s National Assembly will be a welcome relief. It is time to put off the flare and light up Nigeria for the benefit of the country and its traumatized people. Arise, o compatriots!
. Kayode Adeoye is an oil and gas expert from Lagos.