Tonye Princewill

December 2, 2011

Extinguishing the fire flames of waste (1)

By Tonye Princewill
GAS flaring is an act ofecoside and everyone should join us to demand that Shell stops this madness”.
….Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Friends of the Earth Nigeria; Chairman, Friends of the Earth International.


“Only concerted action by all parties will overcome the…challenge… Government must lead the way. The best…SPDC can [do] is to grow and sustain our business in a responsible way”.

….Mutiu Sunmonu, Chairman, Shell Companies in Nigeria; Managing Director, Shell Petroleum Development Company Limited.

There you have it: The angry outcry of an environmental activist and the cool-headed counsel of a corporate executive.

“The voices of rage and reason,” you might say.

But the sordid reality of gas flaring belies this simple dichotomy. There is room for both rage and reason in the struggle to end the ongoing waste of this precious and unrenewable national resource.

As I pointed out in last week’s Primer, more natural gas is flared or vented in Nigeria than in any other country in the world. In 2010, gas flared in Nigeria represented 11 percent of the world’s total.

In saying this, I am aware that the dubious distinction of being the global leader in gas wastage normally goes to Russia—which has the world’s largest gas reserves.

But as Friends of the Earth noted in its critique of Shell Petroleum Development Company’s, SPDC’s, Sustainability Report, Russia produced about 4.5 times more oil than Nigeria in 2010. Therefore, “per litre of oil produced, Nigeria exceeded Russia in flaring gas”.

The organisation contends further that: “Oil production in Nigeria is considered to cause 3.5 to 4.4 times more greenhouse gases than average conventional oil production”.

Thus, the outrage of Nnimmo Bassey and his environmentalist constituency is both understandable and justified. Indeed, oil extracting firms have been burning and venting natural gas in Nigeria for more than 50 years—in reckless disregard for our national interest.

Yet anger alone is not enough, any more than are the kind of publicity generating demonstrations for which Friends of the Earth are famous.

Yes. We need the anger and activism of the environmentalist warriors. Without their courage, commitment and occasional sacrifices, things would undoubtedly be a lot worse than they are.

But we also need to carry the oil companies, the government, the general public and the host communities along. The challenge, therefore, is to quicken the pace of change and, at the same time, keep all the runners in the race.

As Shell Chairman Mutiu Sunmonu correctly advises, in his “Open Letter,” concerted action, across the political spectrum, is required to achieve the desired effect; and I couldn’t agree more with him, that government—at all levels— must take the lead.

Not that government has been on siesta. Far from it: The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, through its dynamic joint venture activism has led us out of the abysmal era of the 1950s, when there was no prospect for salvaging even a single cubic feet of flared gas.

I will touch on NNPC’s joint venture programme again later. But suffice it to say, that substantial amounts of Nigeria’s natural gas is now being salvaged for sale or put to productive use domestically; and projects that will utilize even more are in the offing.

World Bank estimates, based on satellite data, are that gas flaring in Nigeria has reduced from 21.3 billion cubic metres in 2005 to 15.2 billion cubic metres in 2009—a decrease of some 29 percent.

SPDC, on its part, boasts of an even better performance. Its own flaring has diminished by 50 percent since 2002, the mammoth multinational claims; and in the early part of 2010, it started to install gas gathering equipment at 27 separation stations in the Niger Delta.

But I’m jumping the gun a bit—albeit for a good reason. Before I delve too deeply into the issues, my sense of honesty and fair play compels me to admit that, as Duke Ellington, the late African-Americam jazz impresario would say, “things ain’t like they used to be”.

Much of the credit for this progress must go to Government—and not just at the Federal level. The Rivers State Government in particular, has worked hand-in-hand with both NNPC and its joint venture partners to make greater use of associated gas.

In fact, Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi has committed his administration to the attainment of a reliable, round-the-clock power generation regime. The generating turbines will burn gas that would otherwise be flared away.