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When will gas flaring stop?

Submitted: May 07, 2008

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Submitted: May 07, 2008





FOR the second time in the life of this less than a year-old government of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, the deadline for oil producing companies to stop flaring gas has been shifted: this time to a date yet to be decided. This is surprising, to say the least.

As far back as 40 years ago, the Nigerian Petroleum Act of 1969 required that oil companies must come up with feasible gas gathering or gas re-injection projects five years into production. This provision was observed in the breach. In 1973, a government policy to gather associated gas for free use went unimplemented because, it was said, of the high cost of gathering and treating the gas. In 1983, the Associated Gas Re-injection Law was amended to include a penalty of N10 per 1000 standard cubic feet of gas flared. The oil companies have preferred to pay the penalty.

This administration inherited from its predecessor, the target date of January 1, 2008 by which a zero gas flaring regime was to come into effect. So certain was the Obasanjo government that the then Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Edmund Daukoru told the Senate Committee on Gas in 2006 " We are confident that we can meet the 2008 deadline". Mr. Tony Chukwueke, a Director, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), also assured all who cared to listen that there was no going back on the enforcement of that deadline. Indeed, government outlined stiffer fines for a breach after the target date. This was clearly a sensible gesture which should have been upheld by the Yar'Adua administration.

But last November, the president announced to an international audience that the stoppage date had been moved to December 2008. At least 10 environment protection groups, especially those based in the Niger Delta where the damage of gas flaring is most immediately felt, protested the extension granted the oil companies. On our part, we had expressed the hope that government would be sincere enough to stand firm on the January 1, 2008 date. All to no avail.

A few weeks ago, the Minister of State for Energy (Gas), Chief Emmanuel Odusina emerged from a Federal Executive meeting to announce that government would now consult relevant stakeholders to decide on a new deadline because 'we don't want to take a date today and shift it tomorrow'. This position was reiterated at the recent Commonwealth Day celebration.

Nigeria's gas reserve is estimated at 184.2 trillion cubic feet. Fifty tears into oil production, 19.2 trillion cubic feet of this resource has been flared. It is estimated that 2.5 million cubic feet of gas is flared daily. The World Bank says that at this rate, Nigeria is losing $ 2.5 billion yearly in revenue, if not more.

Why have successive governments repeatedly failed in enforcing deadline set either unilaterally, or in agreement with the oil companies? The January 1, 2008 was mutually agreed upon between government and the oil companies. In the words of DPR's Chukwueke, "The Federal Government and the oil companies agreed on the zero gas flaring on that date. In fact, it was the oil companies that chose that date". Why would government now allow itself to be brow-beaten by the oil companies, as appears to be the case, into singing a new song? Much as the oil companies are culpable for the continued degradation of our environment through gas flaring, the Federal Government shares a large portion of the blame , for failing to match its words with firm action.

In effect, the oil companies are willing to halt the destruction of the nation's environment but our government is unwilling (we refuse to think it is unable) to put the money down and / or sanction erring firms. Even the fine threatened by the DPR may come to nought. NNPC Executive Director Mr. Chris Ogiemwonyi said directly: "If they put a penalty, it will affect the government because NNPC which represents government's interest in all Joint Ventures will have to bear 60 per cent of the penalty in line with the equity holding".

It is trite to state that our huge supply of gas can generate cheaper and cleaner power for the nation besides earning substantial foreign exchange. We acknowledge that the Federal Government has designed a Gas Master Plan that should come into effect in April and secondly, an ad hoc Flare Reduction Committee set up a few months ago to design a road map towards eliminating gas flaring. We also note that an agreement has been signed with the government of Norway to reduce gas flaring. Finally, it is on record that a World Bank survey has cited Nigeria as one of 16 countries that significantly reduced gas flaring between 1995 and 2006. But all said and done, what Nigerians and the world would want to see is the complete elimination of gas flaring in Nigeria.

Continued flaring of gas in Nigeria threatens human and environmental health. The Nigerian government has proved itself unable to stop it and indeed put the resource to more beneficial use like other oil producing countries. This obnoxious act has attracted the condemnation of British parliamentarians. The House of Commons All Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria (APPG) has threatened to 'start attacking oil companies (in Nigeria) for not doing much to curb gas flaring'. It is a shame that it would take the intervention (albeit not completely altruistic) of another country, to do what is good for us and our country.

Past governments have failed to stop gas flaring. Will this government go down in history as one more failure in this regard? The choice is President Musa Yar'Adua to make.

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