By Morenike Taire
At the end of the day, you really couldnâ€™t blame anyone if they show scepticism about announced plans to stop gas flaring by the different tiers of government. It will not be the first time such talk would have taken place, and you canâ€™t blame anyone for thinking it might not be the last.
When the ranks and files of what has come to be known as Niger Delta militancy start about environmental pollution of the explored areas of the Delta area and all, no one takes much notice anymore. Yet, the truth is that the scale of environmental pollution in that area has remained so disturbing that it is a wonder anyone is able to live in areas such as Port Harcourt and Eket, without developing major respiratory ailments. Residents have put up, for decades, with air so foul it would take years after the end of gas flaring to clean up.
The World Bank estimates that as at 2000, the annual volume of natural gas being flared and vented worldwide is at about 110 cubic meters, enough to provide for the annual gas consumption of the whole of central and South America and Italy or Germany. WB further found that developing countries account for more than 85 per cent of gas flaring and venting.
This is interesting, given that most of the oil exploring companies and their technical people are from developed countries, which account for the remaining less than 15 per cent.
Nigeria is the highest gas flarer in the world, followed only closely by Russia, who is just beginning to grapple with capitalism. The phenomenon has been condemned from all friends, and by every Nigerian Head of Government since Babangida.
Innumerable International non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have sponsored and carried out campaigns against gas, including Friends of the Earth, who, while supporting the out of court settlement by which Shell settled the Ogoni people, has suggested it would all be meaningless unless gar flaring and other forms of environmental abuse in the whole area are discontinued.
In 1969, the administration of General Yakubu Gowon first attempted to put an end to gas flaring in Nigeria. At the time, he ordered existing oil explorers to put an end to the practice within five years, during which time they should have found ways of putting the gas into use.
Babangida is talking a lot more about gas flaring these days as he did as Head of State, but he paid his own lip service and Abacha, in spite of his battles with Niger Delta Environmentalists, paid lip service to ending gas flaring.
Obasanjo in his turn, set deadlines, and so has Yar’Adua, who has more or less been neutral to virtually every issue bogging the nation.
In actual fact, so much has been achieved from the work of activists and environmentalists operating in the country and outside.
The levels of gas flared has remained constant, even though oil production levels have increased over the years to unprecedented levels, in spite of the activities of the destructive part of the militia in disrupting production.
Some gas has actually been put into use for power production and is still being so, while some multinational and local oil producers have actually made efforts to send more gas into the ground during the process of drilling than had previously been the case.
Issues surrounding environmental abuse in the Niger Delta region have, of course, escalated way beyond gas flaring a long time ago, and both government and militants (it would appear) have found a way out of their misunderstandings with the offer of cash from the government side.
Yet, while the rest of Nigeria is waiting to see what will come out from those diplomatic relations, they are wondering more and more why they have not enough electricity for both domestic and industrial use. With nowhere else to turn, questions are now being asked more than ever about why gas is being flared while the entire nation lives in the 18th century– in the dark.
The question can be answered by different stakeholders in different ways. From the most affected, the women and children whose lives have been made unbearable by the advent of oil exploration in the area, the people they can see are the people responsible for their problems, particularly when oil producers put up impeccable infrastructure for themselves in the midst of all the squalor within which they eke out their existence and pain.
The militants are pointing at both government and Exploration and Production (E&P) companies. And so they should.
According to a senior representative of such a company who wishes to be anonymous, Associated Gas flaring can be stopped only if government can pay back outstanding debts being owed both the JV (Joint Ventures) and PSC (Production Sharing Contract) E&P companies.
The alternative, he says, is to either participateÂ in the funding of infrastructure to deal with Associated gas, or finish building its Power Projects (NIPP) to which they (E&Ps) have promised to contribute gas. Government, he says, can afford to do either.
Can recent promises of government to end gas flare in 2010 then be taken seriously?