NIGERIA: Should stopping gas flaring be a priority?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Environmental experts warn gas flaring by the Nigerian oil industry in the southern Delta region causes acid rain, respiratory infections, skins diseases and land degradation in dozens of local communities, but some environmentalists defend the country’s right to continue flaring.

“Nigeria produces almost 25 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in Africa from its gas flaring by oil firms in the Niger-Delta,” said Stefan Cramer, director of the Nigeria office of Heinrinch Boll Stiftung, a German environmental NGO, who spoke to IRIN during a UN-organised climate change conference in Accra.

For decades, gas flaring has been used in Nigeria to separate non-commercial grade gases from the market-worthy crude oil. Nigeria emits 13 percent of the global 150 billion cubic metres of gas flares every year, even though it is only the world’s eighth largest oil producer, Cramer said. Most countries generate power with the gas leftover from oil extraction, rather than burn it.

Cramer said Nigeria’s contribution to the global environmental crisis is still insignificant when compared to industrial countries in Europe, Asia and the United States.

Nigeria not to blame

Christian Teriete, a spokesman for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), said the African continent emits around 40 billion cubic metres of carbon every year, which he says is “negligible” when compared to Europe, Asia and the US.
“It doesn’t make sense for Nigeria and South Africa to reduce their emissions while the industrialised nations [which] are largely responsible for climate change do not make any efforts to reduce theirs,” Teriete said.

Ewah Otu Eleri, head of the Nigerian International Centre for Energy, Environment and Development agreed Africa’s emissions are negligible and their reduction should not be used as a tool to deprive the continent of development.

“Emissions reductions should not be used as a ploy to create obstacles on our [Nigeria’s] way to development. The developed countries should help us with low-carbon technology.”

Failed attempts to outlaw flaring

Nigeria outlawed gas flaring in 1979, planning to completely eliminate it by 1984. In February 2008, the government approved the trapping and converting of gas flares to economic use, expected to earn about US$500 million annually, according to Nigerian energy officials.

Nigeria’s government has shifted the deadline to end gas flaring to the end of the year, but Nigerian environmentalist Eleri said he does not think the government has committed itself to a firm flare out date.