EFFECT OF GAS FLARING INTO THE ECOSYSTEM (A CASE STUDY OF NIGER DELTA REGION OF NIGERIA)
1.1. Background of the Study
Nigeria flares more natural gas associated with oil extraction than any other country, with estimates suggesting that of the 3.5 billion cubic feet (100,000,000 m³) of associated gas produced annually, 2.5 billion cubic feet (70,000,000 m³), or about 70%, is wasted by flaring. This equals about 25% of the UK’s total natural gas consumption and is the equivalent to 40% of Africa’s gas consumption in 2001. Statistical data associated with gas flaring are notoriously unreliable, but Nigeria may waste US$2 billion per year by flaring associated gas.
Flaring is done as it is costly to separate commercially viable associated gas from the oil. Companies operating in Nigeria also harvest natural gas for commercial purposes but prefer to extract it from deposits where it is found in isolation as non-associated gas. Thus associated gas is burned off to decrease costs.
Gas flaring is generally discouraged as it releases toxic components into the atmosphere and contributes to climate change. In Western Europe 99% of associated gas is used or re-injected into the ground. Gas flaring in Nigeria began simultaneously with oil extraction in the 1960s by Shell. Alternatives to flaring are gas re-injection or to store it for use as an energy source. If properly stored, the gas could be used for community projects.
Gas flaring releases of large amount of methane, which has a high global warming potential. The methane is accompanied by the other major greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, of which Nigeria was estimated to have emitted more than 34.38 million metric tons in 2002, accounting for about 50% of all industrial emissions in the country and 30% of the total CO2 emissions. While flaring in the west has been minimized, in Nigeria it has grown proportionally with oil production.
The international community, the Nigerian government, and the oil corporations seem in agreement that gas flaring needs to be curtailed. Efforts to do so, however, have been limited although flaring has been declared illegal since 1984 under section 3 of the “Associated Gas Reinjection Act” of Nigeria.
While OPEC and Shell, the biggest flares of natural gas in Nigeria, alike claim that only 50% of all associated gas is burnt off via flaring, these data are contested. The World Bank reported in 2004 that, “Nigeria currently flares 75% of the gas it produces”.
Gas flares have potentially harmful effects on the health and livelihood of nearby communities, as they release poisonous chemicals including nitrogen dioxides, sulphurdioxide,volatile organic compounds like benzene, toluene, xylene and hydrogen sulfide, as well as carcinogens like benzapyrene and dioxins. Humans exposed to such substances can suffer from respiratory problems. These chemicals can aggravate asthma, cause breathing difficulties and pain, as well as chronic bronchitis. Benzene, known to be emitted from gas flares in undocumented quantities, is well recognized as a cause for leukemia and other blood-related diseases. A study done 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 close to communities and regularly lack fencing or protection for villagers who risk working near their heat. Many communities claim that nearby flares causeacid rain which corrodes their homes and other structures, many of which have zinc-based roofing. Some people resort to using asbestos-based material, which is stronger in repelling acid rain deterioration. Unfortunately, this contributes to their declining health and the health of their environment. Asbestos exposure increases the risk of forminglung cancer, pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
Whether or not flares contribute to acid rain is debatable, as some independent studies conducted have found that the sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide content of most flares was insufficient to establish a link between flaring and acid rain. Other studies from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) report that gas flaring is “a major contributor to air pollution and acid rain.”
Older flares are rarely relocated away from villages and are known to coat the land and communities with soot and to damage adjacent vegetation. Almost no vegetation can grow in the area directly surrounding the flares due to their heat.
In November 2005 a judgment 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. In a case brought against the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (Shell), Justice C. V. Nwokorie ruled in Benin City that “the damaging and wasteful practice of flaring cannot lawfully continue.” As of May 2011, Shell had not ceased gas flaring in Nigeria.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The Nigerian government has not enforced environmental regulations effectively because of the overlapping and conflicting jurisdiction of separate governmental agencies governing petroleum and the environment as well as because of non-transparent governance mechanisms. Neither the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) nor the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has implemented anti-flaring policies for natural gas waste from oil production, nor have they monitored the emissions to ensure compliance. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) has had the authority to issue standards for water, air and land pollution and has had the authority to make regulations for oil industry. However, in some cases their regulations conflict with the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR)’s regulations started in 1991 for oil exploration.
1.3 Significance of the Study
The overall aim of this project is to quantify the effect of gas flaring on the community of living organisms in the Niger Delta, interpret findings, analyze implications, and convey high level results and implications to national decision-makers for sustainable and improved environment of the community of the Niger Deltas. This information should provide essential guidance for future control ofgas flares and its effect on the community been affected.
1.4 Objectives of the Study
This study was undertaken majorly to assess the effect of gas flaring in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
Specific objectives of the study are:
1. To examine the effect of gas flaring on the community of living organisms in the Niger Delta of Nigeria.
2. To ascertain whether there is any significant impact of gas flaring in the Niger Delta of Nigeria.
1.5 Research Questions
During the course of the study, the researcher seeks to provide suitable answers to the problem following the questions below:
1. Does gas flaring affect the community of living organisms in the Niger Delta?
2. What is the impact of gas flaring on the Niger Deltas of Nigeria?
1.6 Research Hypotheses
H0: Gas flaring in the Niger Delta does not affect the community of living organisms in the environment.
H1: Gas flaring in the Niger Delta affects the community of living organisms in the environment.
H0: There is no significant impact of gas flaring the Niger Deltas of Nigeria.
H1: There is significant impact of gas flaring the Niger Deltas of Nigeria.
1.7 Limitations of the Study
The study was carried out to investigate the effect of gas flaring in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The study is limited to the refineries in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. This is because of her representative nature of all the refineries in Nigeria, proximity to the researcher, time and financial constraints.
1.8 Scope of the Study
This research work is on the effect of gas flaring in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria with particular emphasis on how it affects the community of living organisms in the environment, with a view to proffer lasting solutions.
1.9 Definition of Terms
Gas: This is an air-like fluid substance which expands freely to fill any space available, irrespective of its quantity.
Gas flaring: This is the burning of natural gas that is associated with crude oil when it is pumped up from the ground.
Ecosystem: An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the non-living components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system.
Ayoola, T.J. “Gas flaring and its implication for environmental accounting in Nigeria,” Journal of Sustainable Development.Pg 244-250. 2011.
Manby, B. The price of oil: corporate responsibility and human rights violations in Nigeria’s oil producing communities. Human Rights Watch, New York. 1999. 202.