I am really surprised that none of the political parties has taken specific positions about the petroleum industry bill that has been dragging at the house of assembly for a few years.

  Both ACN and CPC have said they would ensure passage of Freedom of information bill and the PDP has indeed ensured its passage by both houses – though we’re not sure the President will sign it.  Recall that President Obasanjo ‘vetoed’ this bill during his tenure.  So I don’t understand why people are keeping quiet about an equally important bill, except the usual general statements that ‘we will pass PIB asap’!

I choose to focus more on the gas flaring aspect of the bill though I know there are other very important areas.  I read parts of the bill in the last 1 year but I don’t know its current status as it has ‘metamorphosised’ many times.  Lobbyists (the foreign and local ones) have staged ‘watch-nights’ in Abuja for over one year, ensuring that the bill is not passed unless it favours them.  In fact, I am aware that Mr Barack Obama discussed this bill during Dr Goodluck Jonathan’s last visit to the USA.  I like to remind my readers that this bill is of immense national security importance to the United States, just as it is equally important to all of us in Nigeria.

Gas flaring is used to eliminate waste gas and protects gas processing equipments from being over-pressured.  It is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.  According to Rashad Kaldany - Director of Oil, Gas, Mining and Chemicals Department at the World Bank (2006), it is estimated that over 150 billion cubic meters (bcm) (or 5.3 trillion cubic feet (tcf)) of natural gas are being flared annually.  That is equal to 25 percent of the United States’ gas consumption or 30 percent of the European Union’s gas consumption. The annual 40 bcm (or 1.4 tcf) of gas flared in Africa alone is equivalent to half of that continent’s power consumption.  According to Cedigaz, the international association for natural gas, more gas is flared in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world.  Nigeria actually accounted for 19.79% of global flaring in 2001, more than the second (Iran) and third (Indonesia) countries combined.  By 2004, The UNDP/World Bank had estimated Nigerian flaring at close to 2.5 bcf daily (over 70 million cubic metres daily), amounting to about 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.  And by 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that Nigeria flared 532 Bcf of natural gas in 2008, down from 593 Bcf in 2007.  NNPC claimed in the same year that flaring cost Nigeria US$ 1.46 billion in lost revenue.  A Federal High Court of Nigeria ruled to forbid gas flaring in 2005, but as at 2006, 43% of the gas retrieval was still being flared.  Our federal government has been working to end natural gas flaring for several years but the deadline to implement the policies and fine oil companies has been repeatedly postponed.  We seem not to have the will to do it!

Gas flaring adds about 390 million tonnes of CO2 in annual emissions. This is more than the potential yearly emission reductions from projects currently submitted under the Kyoto mechanisms.  According to the Climate Justice website, the ‘cocktail’ of toxic substances which has been emitted in the flares for over 40 years, including benzene and particulates, has exposed Niger Delta communities to health risks and property damage, in violation of their human rights. The flares affect their livelihood and expose them to an increased risk of premature deaths, child respiratory illnesses, asthma and cancer, as well as acid rain. For example, ‘very conservative’ assumptions using World Bank information on the adverse effect of particulates, suggests that gas flaring from just one part of the Niger Delta (Bayelsa State) would likely cause annually 49 premature deaths, 4,960 respiratory illnesses among children and 120 asthma attacks.  Personally, I believe the figures have been underestimated!  Also, the UNDP/World Bank postulates that Nigeria emits 70 million of the 390 million tonnes carbon dioxide and this makes us the world's 42nd biggest emitter of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel and cement manufacture as at 2000, ahead of Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway.

Saudi Arabia has been able to achieve a significant reduction in gas flaring despite the fact that they produce four times the amount of oil that Nigeria produces per day. There, gas flaring emissions fell from 38 billion cubic meters per year in the early 1980s to a mere 120 million cubic meters per year in 2004. The associated gas was used to provide the basis of a successful petrochemicals industry. As a result, Saudi Arabia is now one of the world’s largest producers of urea –a widely used agricultural fertilizer –and many other Middle Eastern nations are following suit.

The annual financial loss to Nigeria from gas flared has been put at about US $2.5 billion: "[F]laring represents a significant economic loss (lost opportunity value estimated at some US$2.5 billion, based on LNG values)."  Strategic Gas Plan for Nigeria, Joint UNDP/World Bank Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme (ESMAP) (February 2004), page 13, paragraph 1.13.
Though we need tougher regulations and enforcements to stop gas flaring, our existing laws are good enough to have reduced our gas flaring.  A government-public-private partnership is required to solve the problem, but Nigerians’ interest must be very paramount to our government as they negotiate with the big industry players.  The oil industry unions, activist groups, the Nigeria Delta people, and experienced engineers and strategists across Nigeria and other parts of the world, must all be involved in this process of reducing gas flaring in Nigeria.  Nigerians must demand that our government takes a firm, specific and URGENT position on this subject.  It will save human lives and ultimately earn us billions of dollars.

Nigeria will surely prosper again!

Debo Onifade  -  Energy Strategist based in Boston and Lagos
[email protected]

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