End gas flaring in Nigeria now!

Gas Flaring

Some sixty odd years after the nation started producing oil in commercial quantity the dangerous and unhealthy practice of flaring gas into the atmosphere has continued unabated.

But it is curious that the government is still dithering over the issue, sending conflicting signals to stakeholders at all times. Almost all successive governments have made pronouncements on ending gas flaring. Some have actually given deadlines and ultimatums; yet nothing positive or concrete has come out of supposedly well-reasoned government positions.

Which is the reason the people of the Niger Delta, most stakeholders and the International Oil Companies (IOCs) have come to one conclusion: the government is not serious about ending the environment-unfriendly practice. This is sad, unbecoming and unfortunate.

This is why a threat issued the other day by Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Ibe Kachikwu that the government might revoke defaulting firms’ licences has been met with skepticism. The reason is not far-fetched. The government has never been able to summon the political will to enforce its own laws. The IOCs prefer to pay the paltry fines in lieu of harnessing the gas resource. As a result, gas flaring rose from 244.84 billion Standard Cubic Feet in 2016 to 287.59 billion in 2017 while gas flare penalty stands at N1n/m SCF. The government has also increased the fines to be paid for gas flaring. But without the proper will and with the spirit of compromise everywhere we go here, nothing is likely to come out of this charade. That is very unfortunate.

The harmful effects of gas flaring have been well documented. Apart from depleting the ozone layer, it has deleterious effects on nature. The implications include a fact that whole farmlands can be negatively impacted, thus affecting the quantity and quality of farm yields. Besides, farmers cannot visit some of their farmlands because of extreme pollution. Aquatic or marine life is seriously threatened because of polluted waters, which endanger fish and other animals that depend on a healthy marine environment. The people who live in the areas where gas flaring takes place would readily tell you how easy it was for them to engage in fishing and harvest great catches before now.

These days the fishes are becoming scarce. The rate of attrition is high and standard of living is also affected. Wildlife is also a victim of the same unhealthy condition. Plants and animals do not have enough light and darkness to assist production. Cassava and yam production has been severely reduced. What is worse, young people in these communities are permanently aggrieved. All of these have serious implications on the ecology of the land.

Gas flaring has also been linked with the increased incidence of hypertension among people who live in the geographical zone. Some studies have also linked it with a form of cancer.  Skin rashes and other forms of strange diseases are also common, in this connection. Matters and particles flared into the air are often inhaled by residents of the area.  These are health hazards that are hardly discussed about this prevailing condition in the Niger Delta area. Some have gone down with lung and associated ailments. We do not need any scientific evidence (there is abundance of proof) to assert that people who live under that kind of environment have the chances of going down with debilitating illnesses. Often because these effects are slow in manifestation industry chiefs and businessmen along with governments never take regulatory actions seriously.  This is a tragedy for the people of the Niger Delta and the Nigerian citizenry.

Across the world, there is an anti-pollution pro-green movement and consciousness. Even cars are being propelled with environment-friendly engine systems. Energy systems are being redefined to meet the challenges arising. Global warming is a reality. And so weather patterns have changed radically. International commitments are being processed, signed and documented by nations to save the environment. The Paris Accord is one of such protocols. In most of the home countries of the IOCs they cannot by law do what they are currently doing in Nigeria. There is a flagrant disobedience to the culture of best practices, which they uphold in their countries.

Therefore, one of the major points to be made is the financial benefits, which harnessing the natural gas can bring on the economy. When the gas is converted to wealth for industrial use, it will create jobs and bring billions into the coffers of government. The current approach where we fritter away the nation’s patrimony because of the relatively easy way of selling crude is harmful to the overall polity. Nowhere in the world is this environmental hazard tolerated. We do not add any value to our natural resources. We simply have the IOCs explore, drill and tell us how many barrels they produce in a day and we sell it off to the international market.

No doubt, this is a result of poor strategic thinking and shortsightedness. Oil, as we know as a source of energy, will gradually lose its pride of place. Shale Oil in the United States is already a threat to the general oil market. That apart, more nations have been admitted into the comity of oil-producing countries. What provisions have we made against the rainy day, especially now that the world has given warning signals about alternative sources of energy.

That is also why the Federal Government should be firm and decisive. They should give a firm deadline and wield the big stick on defaulters. This will reduce the health hazards of oil exploration and improve the revenue base of the country. Mr. Kachikwu and Dr. Maikanti Baru have both given different dates for the end of gas flaring. While Kachikwu has stuck to the 2019 date (perhaps because it is an election year), Baru has said by 2020 all flaring must stop. This is tardy and confusing. What is the real deadline? Or is this an extension of the tension between the two public officials? Whatever it is, the people of the Niger Delta are at the receiving end of the flip-flop that has dogged faithful implementation of the gas flaring policy. It is time to restore some credibility to the process.

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