Non-stop gas flaring in the Niger-Delta communities is said to be responsible for associated aliments people and animals in the area suffer
| By Pita Ochai | Dec. 24, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT
THE sound of cough from Thomas, the younger son of John Fawie, an indigene of Ogbogu, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area in Rivers State, woke the father up from sleep about two years ago. Fawie went straight to his son and discovered that he had a high temperature. The following morning, Thomas was taken to the hospital and treated but the cough persisted. While the parents were still seeking solution to the persistent cough, Amos, the elder son of Fawei, also developed chronic cough which defied all medical solutions.
Fawei was later advised by the family doctor to relocate his two sons from the community. His reason was that the smoke, smog, soot and other acidic particles from the gas flaring about 300 meters away from their home was responsible for the poor health of the children. Fawie accepted the advice and moved his two children to the house of his younger brother in Port Harcourt where they regained their health after some medical treatment.
In the Egi-Ali-Ogba clan, the brown colour of the galvanised roofing on their houses is not as the result of old age but effect of gas flaring. According to residents, it takes the roof of a new building less two than years to be decolorised by the smoke, soot and other acidic particles from the gas flaring. Many oil communities have had some nasty tales to tell on the poisonous emission from gas flaring.
Gabriel Adikwu, an environmentalist, told Realnews that the harzardous effects of gas flaring on the health of the people of oil bearing communities in Niger Delta will continue as long as gas flaring lasts. To Adikwu, habitats in the Niger Delta will continue to be polluted, degraded, and dehumanised, if governments and oil companies continue to be irresponsible. “The emissions of smoke, soot, smog and other acidic particles constitute serious health hazards and pose a major risk of respiratory track diseases,” he said.
According to the environmentalist, if the gas flaring is prolonged in an environment, it would not only have a negative impact on health, there will also be an increase in environmental temperature, heat-wave and global warming. Such condition, he said, would dehydrates the habitats, and the eco-system, with resultant effects on food chain, nitrogen cycle, oxygen cycle, flora and fauna.
Adikwu further said that people living in gas-flaring areas are at risk of having cancer. He explained that the presence of carbon and traces of nitrogen and sulfur in natural gas leads to the production of various oxides and sulfides, when these chemicals are inhaled through the flaring, they pass through the nostrils down to the lungs as thick carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide could block passage of oxygenated blood to the heart of human beings and animals. The oxides and sulfides in hydro-carbon with gaseous chemicals when flared combine with water in the atmosphere to form various types of corrosive acids such as nitric and sulfurous acids, which irritate the human skin and prevent plants’ chlorophyll from functioning. This, he said, could lead to cancer of the skin and corrode galvanised roofing sheets close to oil and gas production zones.
Nigeria has the world’s seventh largest natural gas reserves and the second top in gas flaring in the world, after Russia. But Osten Olorunsola, Director, Department of Petroleum Resources, is of the view that gas flaring has reduced significantly even though the government is not yet impressed with the reduction rate. Currently, Olorunsola said, Nigeria flares between 1.3 and 1.4 billion cubic feet, bcf, of gas a day, down from 2.5 bcf about a year and half ago. Russia, the largest culprit in gas flaring in the world flares around 20 billion cubic metres of gas each year, or approximately one-third of the total amount extracted at the country’s oilfields.
While the issue of gas flaring is an industry-wide phenomenon, Olorunsola said that the worst culprits are in the older fields found onshore, which were not fitted with “gas solutions” when they were built decades ago. He said operationally, it was difficult to retrofit solutions after, but the recent oil fields, but the recent oil fields, all have gas solution as part of their concepts.
The long-delayed Petroleum Industry Bill, currently before the National Assembly, proposes that gas flaring be banned at a date to be decided by the Minister of Petroleum Resources. So far, all targets set by previous government have not been met. The last target set was for Nigeria to have zero level of gas flaring by the year 2010 but that was not achieved. The country’s oil reserves as at January 1, 2012, stands at 31.170 billion barrels of oil, 5.018 billion barrels of condensate, 92.6 trillion cubic feet of associated gas, and 90.150 trillion cubic feet of non-associated gas.
Adikwu said the government, the organised private sector, and all the stakeholders in the oil and gas industry, would need to join hands in the promotion and utilisation of liquefied natural gas in factories, medium scale industries and also create other avenues that will lead to the optimum use of gas, thereby discouraging the flaring of gas.
Many oil companies said they have started working out ways of reducing gas flaring. Shell has reported that it has achieved a 60 percent decrease in gas flaring in the past nine years. The company said it is currently implementing a $5 billion program to reduce flaring and gather more of the natural gas for power.