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Gas Flaring in Nigeria and the environment

In this editorial, a Nigeria newspapers looks at te impact of Gas flaring in Nigeria’s delta delta on the environment.

STATISTICS about gas flaring in Nigeria and its impact on the environment are staggering. Just like with oil spills, governments have set deadlines for oil companies to stop the damage to lives and the environment to no results.

In November 2005, a judgement by the Federal High Court of Nigeria ordered that gas flaring must stop in a Niger Delta community as it violates guaranteed constitutional rights to life and dignity. Justice C. V. Nwokorie ruled in Benin City that “the damaging and wasteful practice of flaring cannot lawfully continue.” The illegality continues.

Nigeria, according to studies, is the world’s worst gas flarer. Estimates suggest that of the 3.5 billion cubic feet (100,000,000 m ‘) of associated gas produced annually, 2.5 billion cubic feet (70,000,000 m ‘), or about 70 per cent is wasted by flaring.

This equals about 25 per cent of the UK’s total natural gas consumption, and 40 per cent of Africa’s gas consumption in 2001. Gas flaring costs Nigeria about $2.5 billion a year, with the waste reportedly enough to meet the electricity needs of the entire African continent.

The reason for this economically and environmentally costly practice is that it is expensive to separate commercially viable associated gas from the oil. Companies operating in Nigeria prefer to extract natural gas from deposits where it is isolated.

Gas flaring contributes greatly to climate change.

The Niger Delta’s low-lying plains are also quite vulnerable. Along with gas re-injection, another alternative solution to burning the excess material is to use the gas as an energy source. It is much cheaper to burn the gas and pay the puny penalty government imposes.

Large amounts of methane accompanied by the other major greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide are released from flaring. While flaring has been minimised globally, in Nigeria the volume of associated gas flared, is directly linked to the amount of oil produced.

It is established that poisonous chemicals from gas flares have harmful effects on health.

By-products of flaring include nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, like benzene, toluene, xylene and hydrogen sulphide, as well as carcinogens, like benzapyrene and dioxin.

They cause respiratory problems already reported in many children in the Niger Delta. These chemicals can aggravate asthma, cause breathing difficulties and pain, as well as chronic bronchitis. Benzene is well researched as being a causative agent for leukaemia and other blood-related diseases.

A study by Climate Justice estimates that exposure to benzene would result in eight new cases of cancer yearly in Bayelsa State alone.

Gas flares are often located close to local communities. Many of these communities claim that nearby flares cause acid rain which corrodes their corrugated iron roofs.

They resort to asbestos-based material, which is stronger in repelling acid rain deterioration, but this affects their health adversely as asbestos exposure increases the risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.

Almost no vegetation can grow in the area directly surrounding the flare due to the tremendous heat it produces.

It is incredible that with these known damages from gas flaring, government pays only lip service to stopping it. Nigeria must see gas flaring as threatening as oil spills and deal with it expeditiously.