27 Gas flaring, hot air and fertilisers

This was first published in 234NEXT[1]

Last week, Goodluck Jonathan signed what has been described as binding memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with petrochemical companies from Saudi Arabia and India as well as with Chevron, AGIP, and Oando. According to the president, this step signalled the start of a gas revolution in Nigeria.

Coming a week before general elections, we cannot fail to note the political undertones in the timing of the launch. Past governments have made pronouncements on their determination to halt the heinous acts of gas flaring over the past decades. These have amounted to nothing but hot air.

Administrative measures to curb the menace started in 1969. Ten years after the initial moves, the 1979 Gas Reinjection decree set 1984 as the essential date when gas flaring became outlawed in Nigeria. However, the penalty for flouting the law was a slap on the wrist to the oil companies so that they continued flaring, poisoning the environment and maiming the people.

The last set dates for ending gas flaring were given by the late Yar’Adua in December 2008. Towards that deadline, Odein Ajumogobia, at that time the minister of state for petroleum, announced that a new flare out formula was being worked out to end gas flaring without hurting government revenue.

When an earlier target date of December 2007 was getting close, the same minister announced that zero gas flare was a moving target.

The gas revolution announced by Mr. Jonathan is replete with figures on how much money would be spent on the various projects, but as far as news reports go, we have seen very little of the volumes of associated gas currently being flared that the projects would take up.

The drums are very loud that foreign direct investments will bring in US$10 billion and an aggregate investment of US$25 billion over the next three years, with activities in fertiliser production, petrochemicals, and methanol manufacturing.

All these will add up to create about half a million jobs directly and indirectly. But statistics can be colourful, especially when they are of the Nigerian variety.

Except for Chevron, which says it would start by delivering 175 million cubic feet of gas a day ‘once the pipelines and infrastructure are in place’[2], we don’t see concrete gas utilisation figures associated with this revolution.

Undoubtedly, efforts have been made in the past by some oil companies to reduce the amount of gas flared. For example, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Mobil’s East Area Natural Gas-to-Liquid (NGL II) project initiated in 2006 was completed ahead of schedule in 2008 and was designed to utilise 950 million standard cubic feet of gas daily.

Chevron also announced that the West African Gas Pipeline project (WAGP) would significantly dent the amount of gas being flared in the oil fields.

It turned out that this was not the case because, according to some estimates, less than 20 per cent of the gas on this pipeline is associated with crude oil production. The bulk of the gas comes from gas fields, rather than oil fields.

As for the oil company AGIP, their notoriety in the area of gas flaring is marked by their seeking to claim carbon credits for utilising some of the gas they have been flaring at Kwale in the face of the fact that the activity has not ceased to be illegal in Nigeria.

The same can be said of Chevron and their claims of the WAGP as well as of other companies such as Pan Ocean, which is making strides towards obtaining carbon credits through this route dotted with ethical and moral questions.

Nigeria’s huge gas reserves, easily accessible in new gas fields, have made the stoppage of gas flaring unattractive to an industry that has admittedly taken the act as a routine matter since the 1950s, despite public outcry. Nigeria is said to have proven gas reserves of about 187 trillion cubic feet.

The 2005 estimates by the World Bank indicated that Nigeria flares about 812 billion cubic feet of gas daily. We can argue all we want whether this figure has increased or reduced with the passage of time.

Oil companies sometimes make curious claims about how much reduction they have achieved in their flaring binge. Some have claimed up to 30 per cent reduction, but the reality on the ground has not backed up such claims.

The gas revolution also has an anchor on the stomach, as marked by the proposed fertiliser plants. Obviously, the existing fertiliser plant in Nigeria has not made a significant dent on supply of the product in the country and this has left the field open for above and below board games.

While launching the gas revolution project, the president declared, ‘We can only be successful if our actions impact on the common man in Nigeria. The agricultural revolution arising from the fertilizer and blending plants will create affordable food for Nigerians and a lot more for export. The LPG agenda will touch the lives of many households, as cheaper and cleaner LPG displaces kerosene. The disposable income that arises from the savings will result in the purchase of more goods and services, boosting GDP.’[3]

Good lecture, Mr. President. However, when it comes to wholesome food provision for the present and in the future, it has been shown that this will come through farmers who cultivate using agro-ecological methods, and will not be dependent on the use of artificial fertilisers that are climate changers and ultimately harm soils and water bodies.

Let the Gas Revolution roll, but let it begin by the release of the figures of associated gas to be used in the project, as well as the schedule for the environmental and other impact assessments for the project.

And, of course, the question remains, Mr. President: when will gas flares be quenched? Do we take that the revolution will begin to snuff some flares out in three years and continue over indeterminate years into the future?

  1. It can also be accessed at http://nnimmo.blogspot.com.ng/2011/04/oil-politics-gas-flaring-hot-air-and.html  (accessed 31 May 2016)
  2. Brock, Joe (March 24, 2011),. Nigeria unveils 'gas revolution' weeks before polls,Reuters,http://www.reuters.com/article/ozatp-nigeria-gas-idAFJOE72N0K620110324 (accessed on 31 May 2016)
  3. Archibong, Elizabeth. March 25, 2011. Gas project to bring in USb foreign investment. http://www.nairaland.com/630992/gas-project-bring-10b-foreign (accessed 31 May 2016)


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