In the cities of Eleme and Okrika, as well as nearby settlements in Rivers State, residents watch the 24 hour glow of fire from huge skyward pipes. While they may be unaware of the fact that the glow is a consequence of gas flaring, which has a direct impact on their health, and the waste of almost N1trillion annually, Nigeria is bleeding from the decades-old practice. To put the situation into perspective, Nigeria lost approximately N2.46 billion daily on average over the last ten years due to gas flaring.
Everywhere crude oil is processed in Nigeria, gas flaring is a part of the outcome. Nigeria is one of the top seven gas-flaring countries globally.
It is estimated that around 2 million people in the country live less than 4km away from a flare site. Most of the focus on the impact of flaring has been on the economic impacts.
According to the World Bank, gas flaring cost the global economy $20billion in 2018. PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) estimates that the Nigerian economy lost N233 billion ($761.6 million) to gas flaring which translated to 3.8 per cent of the global total cost in 2018.
The percentage of gas flared in Nigeria has been reducing since 2002 and stood at 10 per cent in 2018. But the country still ranks in the top 10 gas flaring countries in the world, with 7.4 billion cubic feet in 2018. Total gas flared in Nigeria accounted for 6.9 per cent of the top 10 gas glaring countries in 2018.
Between 2012 and 2022, Nigeria flared an estimated 80 billion standard cubic metres of gas worth about N9trillion as part of its oil production process.
A breakdown showed that in 2012, about 9.6 billion standard cubic metres worth N460million ($1,100m) of gas was wasted.
In 2013, 9.3 billion standard cubic feet of gas were flared into the environment, 2014, 8.4 billion, 2016, 7.3 billion, 2017, 7.7 billion, 2018, 7.5 billion, 2019, 7.9 billion, 2020, 7.2 billion, and in 2021, 6.6 billion cubic metres of gas was flared, according to World Bank.
Gas flared in 2012 could have earned Nigeria the sum of $1.1billion, $1.075billion in 2013, $970million in 2014, $980million in 2015, $810million in 2016, $880million in 2017, $860million in 2018, $890million in 2019, $825million in 2020, and about $761million in 2021, according to World Bank.
Data from the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) showed that from January to November 2022, Nigeria flared an estimated 5.6 billion standard cubic metres of gas valued at $685million.
Due to the incessant flaring of gas in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, in his capacity as the minister of petroleum resources issued the Flare Gas (Prevention of Waste and Pollution) Regulations 2018, which provides a legal framework for the protection of the environment against the effect of gas flaring, prevent waste of gas and the creation of social and economic benefits to Nigeria from stoppage of gas flares.
The government subsequently declared its commitment to eliminate gas flaring in the country by 2025 as it launched a National Gas Expansion Programme (NGEP) and affirmed the period 2021 to 2030 as the “Decade of Gas,” a period within which the nation must shift focus from oil-centred exploitation to gas-driven industrial development.
According to a NOSDRA report, gas is burnt off or flared as part of the oil production process.
However, the federal government had, in recent years, led campaigns for gas monetisation as against flaring.
NOSDRA lamented that despite the fact that Nigeria had been flaring gas since the 1950s, the dirty practice had continuously led to environmental and health challenges in oil producing areas. Experts have canvassed increased penalties for oil companies that flout the rules.
Chairman, Society of Petroleum Engineers, SPE Nigeria Council, Prof. Olalekan Olafuyi, said the federal government would increase gas flaring penalties as Nigeria raced towards achieving its commitment to the United Nations net zero goal by 2060.
“We are working closely with the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, and I can categorically say that companies that flare gas will now pay more than those utilising it. So, it will be to their advantage to start thinking of ways to utilise their gas instead of flaring them,” he said.
Currently, companies producing more than 10, 000bpd pay a fine of $2 per 1000 Standard scf of gas flared. Companies producing less than 10, 000bpd pay $0.5 per 1000bpd, while they pay $0.5 per 1000scf of gas flared.
In 2020 alone, natural gas valued at $1.24billion was flared by oil companies.
Deputy managing director, Deep Water, TotalEnergies EP Nigeria, Victor Bandele, said Nigeria would be better off when it converted all gas flared into commercial use.
President Muhammadu Buhari had, in June, ordered for the full audit of the accounts of Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, HYPREP (a body in charge of oil spill cleanup in the Niger Delta) from inception to date, and also approved the reorganisation of its operations.
Professor of Geo-economics, Paul Gurudi, told NATIONAL ECONOMY that over the decades, the incentive to flare gas has been more than the disincentive to do so. He said international oil companies pay less in fines for flaring gas than investing in technology to trap the gas.
Gurudi said the gas that is flared during the processing of crude oil, called associated gas, requires special and expensive technology to trap. “As a result of weak regulations in Nigeria over the past 60 years, the IOCs have had a field day flaring gas; and the situation will remain unchanged until proper regulations are enforced to get the oil companies to adhere to them,” he said.
He said adhering to laid down best practice in the oil industry should not be too difficult for the oil companies since they obey such rules in their home country.
On a positive note, the minister of state for petroleum resources, Chief Timipre Silva, has assured that gas flaring had been reduced to eight per cent in the country at present and that by 2025, it would be completely eliminated.
He said, “The issue of gas flaring is something that the ministry takes very seriously. There is a global consensus on the elimination of gas flaring by 2025. Today, we have reduced the issue of gas flaring to a minimum eight per cent.”
In affirmation to Sylva’s assertion, the group managing director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, Mele Kyari, recently said the company was building major trunk lines infrastructure that will receive flared gas.
Speaking on the prospect of ending gas flaring, he said no amount of penalty imposed on the oil companies for flaring gas will stop the unhealthy practice.
He said, “Two things must happen – one is to put the enabling infrastructure which we are doing immensely. We are building major trunklines that will receive the flared gas that you are seeing today.
“We are connecting most parts of this country to the gas network so that people can convert this gas to power industries and they are all within sight.
“Just to put it in perspective, by the end of March, we have what we will call the quarry cluster for flared gas. It makes about 200 million cups of gas. By the end of March, this will vanish because once we end connecting all the lines, automatically, it goes away. A number of projects are being executed to make sure that we take the flare completely out.