Ending gas flaring: Any arrangement on ground to aid govt. directive?

The Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, at a recent stakeholder engagement forum organized by the Gas Aggregation Company of Nigeria in Abuja was reported to have said that his ministry would soon get frantic about ending gas flaring in Nigeria and that companies that cannot meet with extended deadline should begin to look at foreclosing of their operational licenses.

 According to the minister, ‘‘the issue is not how much you can pay in terms of fines for gas flaring, the issue is that you would not be allowed to produce.’’

 Indeed, to address the age-long challenges facing the crude oil host communities, the present administration had upon the assumption of office in 2015 taken steps that were quite encouraging in finding lasting solution to the unending problem of gas flaring and its attendant environmental pollution.

Telling examples of such government moves in the past included the enactment of Gas Flare prohibition and punishment Act 2016, an act that among other things made provisions prohibiting gas flaring in any oil and gas production operation, blocks, fields, onshore or offshore, and gas facility treatment plants in Nigeria.

 This is in addition to the recently launched National Gas Flare Commercialization Program (NGFCP) a program that is according to the Federal Government aimed at achieving the flares-out zero-routine gas flaring in Nigeria by 2020. Nevertheless, while past efforts of the Federal Government are commendable; some questions immediately come to mind.

Individuals with critical interest in the worsening environmental situation in the Niger Delta region and the world would like to know the arrangement on ground geared towards providing enabling environment that will aid the present government directive.

 Again, beyond ending gas flaring, which is just part of the environmental problem, the Minister did not say, what plans, both short and long-term, the FG has for the visibly degraded environment by crude oil exploration related activities, as well as, the heavily contaminated shallow and underground water, and the exploited communities and region.

 In our opinion, not taking cognizance of the above crucial issues by the government is but a clear indication that it has not absorbed enough lessons from history, and in the historian’s phrase, is doomed to repeating the mistakes that have already been made-as the list of actions not yet taken by the Government to make the oil sector function prominently remains lengthy.

 Though successive administrations have made ceaseless attempts to end flaring, beginning with the 1979 Associated Gas Re-injection Act which summarily prohibited gas flaring and also fixed the flare-out deadline for January 1, 1984, however, this was not to be, as series of deadlines have been moved on countless occasions without success.

 In the same style and span, precisely on July 2nd, 2009, the Nigerian Senate passed a Gas Flaring Prohibition and Punishment Bill 2009, into Law fixing the flare-out deadline for December 31, 2010- a date that slowly, but inevitably failed too.

 Not stopping at this point, the FG made another attempt in this direction by coming up with the Petroleum Industry Bill which fixed the flare-out deadline for 2012, the rest is now history. Yet, thinking that the recent threat by the minister will solve the challenge posed by pollution can only but meet with mirage, as it is not the only monster that needs to be tamed in order to have a pollution free environment.

 The truth is that aside gas flaring; oil spillages and wastewater challenge has become a silent, but visible source of misery among the most serious of the strategic environmental threats currently facing the country.

 The question that arises if this is the true position of things in the Niger Delta region is: why is industry waste and contamination of underground water not being discussed as gas flaring? The response to this question could be that pollution from gas flaring is usually sensational and obvious for all to see. But groundwater contamination resulting from events such as spillage/other wastes is more dangerous but not easily noticed.

 However, going by the minister’s pronouncement, we sincerely hope that the flare gas commercialization framework, as planned will bring in a new era for the gas sector and is a step in the right direction towards moving the Nigerian economy from a crude-oil based economy to a more balanced gas-based industrialized economy.

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