Tuesday 30 August 2016

Feeling the Heat: Investigating Gas Flaring Activities in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria

By Dr Omosivie Maduka, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Cohort 2 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of crude oil and the 6th largest producer in the world, with a capacity to produce approximately 2.5 million barrels/day. Oil and natural gas extraction currently account for up to 97% of the country’s revenue from foreign exchange, 20% of the country’s GrossDomestic Product (GDP) and 65% of budgetary revenue.  Nigeria is also blessed with vast deposits of natural gas located mainly in the Niger Delta region of the country. In spite of this apparent wealth, Nigeria ranks among the poorest countries in the world with over half of its population living on less than two dollars a day.

Gas flaring, which is the controlled burning of gases in the course of oil production, is routinely carried out by oil exploration companies in Nigeria, even though it was formally banned in 1984 and declared "unconstitutional" by the Nigerian Supreme Court in 2005. However, despite government bans, the federal and state authorities have been unable to force companies to stop, even in the face of significant hazards to the health of populations exposed to it. It pollutes the air, heats up the atmosphere and releases greenhouse gases.  Although Nigeria pledged to stop gas flaring and has imposed fines on oil exploration companies that are still flaring gas in the country, the practice of gas flaring has not ended. Nigeria ranks as the 5th highest contributor to the flaring of natural gas worldwide with flares of up to 428 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas in 2013, representing 10% of gas flaring.

Horizontal gas flaring at Etelebu flow station in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State
My CIRCLE-funded research titled ‘Gas flaring and climate change: an analysis of the impact on the health and well-being of communities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria’, explores the health effects of gas flaring on oil-bearing communities of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. My research team and I conducted field visits to six communities in the Niger Delta region of the country, three of which are host to flow stations that have been flaring gas for the past ten years. We gathered data from these communities including those host to flow stations namely: Mbodo-Aluu in Ikwerre Local Government Area (LGA) of Rivers State, Nedugo in Yenagoa LGA of Bayelsa State and Oton in Sapele LGA of Delta State. One of the things we were eager to do was to get as close to gas flaring locations as possible in these three communities and conduct air quality analysis. We hoped to experience for a few minutes what the residents of these communities have been exposed to for a decade or more. This would be the first time I would be ‘up close and personal’ with gas flares.

My research team and I braving the heat and rain to conduct air quality analysis
At Mbodo-Aluu in Rivers State, we drove as close as we could to the flow station, hoping production activities were in full gear with the resultant flaring of gas. We were disappointed as operations had not commenced that day. We however hit jackpot (imagine being excited about such a health hazard) at Nedugo in Bayelsa State and Oton in Delta state, where we were able to get within 500 metres of horizontal flares from the Etelebu and Sapele flow stations. We felt the heat and smelt the smoke as we conducted the air quality analysis, observing the horizontal flares while we took our measurements.  The analysis included carbon monoxide (CO), Carbon dioxide (CO2), Nitrogen oxide (NO2), Ozone (O3), Sulphur dioxide S02), Hydrogen sulphide (H2S), methane (CH4) and ammonia (NH3). Other gases measured were volatile organic compounds (VOC). Needless to say, most of the readings exceeded the threshold for many of the atmospheric gases. Data analysis is now underway along with work on a manuscript that describes the air quality in gas flaring host communities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

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