Tonye Princewill

December 16, 2011

Extinuguishing the flames of waste (2)

By Tonye Princewill
COLLABORATION between private industry and the various levels of Government has, therefore, wrought substantial reductions in gas flaring—although how much is open to question.

NNPC, for example, has just released figures showing that gas burn-off in Nigeria’s oil extraction industry is down to 19.54 percent.

According to unsigned articles in Vanguard and Business Day, reportedly based on figures which NNPC released via its Monthly Petroleum Information bulletin (01/11/11), a total of 197.2 billion standard cubic feet (BSCF) of natural gas was produced—159.02 BSCF was utilised.

The release also noted that, in the Joint Venture category, Agip had the highest rate of flaring, at 23.36 percent, while Total Exploration and Production least, at 9.57 percent. Mobil Producing Nigeria, it said, flared 21 percent of its associated gas.

Not having seen the NNPC publication, I cannot say very much–except that these figures are a bit suspect. Shell, for one thing, is not mentioned. Nor is the Italian oil firm Agip ENI which, along with Shell, has been getting low marks from environmentalists on flaring.

Shell has, in fact admitted to flaring more gas in 2010 than the year before. Indeed, reporting from Yenagoa, in The Independent, Daniel Howden opined that the flaring of gas at Opolo-Epie tended to cast doubt on Shell’s sincerity.

According to Wikipedia, Nigeria has 159 oil fields and 1,481wells. It’s hard to get reliable statistics on the total number of flares burning—not to mention a breakdown by company.  But I can say that the new flare at Opolo-Epie joins 110 other Shell stacks, from which natural gas is being burned off.

Shell, though, is not the only multinational that seem to be lagging behind in efforts to stop the flaring. NEXT, the Internet publication, recently reported that a delegation of visiting environmentalists also accused ENI of lying to its shareholders.

Last May, ENI chief executive, Paolo Scaroni, reportedly told the Annual General Meeting that the company would end flaring at its Kwale plant, in Delta State by June. But the visiting delegation subsequently document at least five flare stacks at Kwale and found that flaring was also continuing at Ebocha.

Thus while things “ain’t like they used to be,” to use Duke’s idiom, they apparently are not exactly what apologists say they are either. There is still a lot to be done; and it needs to be done fast.

It is pathetic indeed, that in more than 50 years after flaring commenced in this country, Howden could report, in The Independent, that “satellite images show…flares burning more brightly than the lights of Nigeria’s biggest city, Lagos”.

True, we need the oil companies. But we also need our natural resources, which some of them are continuing to waste. As Alagoa Morris told Howden, “What we are asking for is that the oil companies should have to meet the same standards in Nigeria that they do operating in their own countries”.

I use the word “some” pointedly–because there are companies which are setting a commendable precedent. One of them is Pan Ocean Oil, which does almost no flaring. Not only does it salvage 98 to 99 percent of its associate gas at Ovade-Ogharefe, in Delta State, but it makes extra money in the process.

It does so, through the carbon credit scheme of the United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change (UNFCC), for which it qualified in 2009. UNFCC monitors Pan Ocean’s reductions in greenhouse gas (especially carbon) emissions and, upon verification, awards the company a specific amount of credit—which Pan Ocean, in turn, sells to high carbon-emitting nations for a profit.

Asked what advice he has for Nigerian policy makers, Alexander Forsyth, Pan Oceans Gas Processing Manager told Sweet Crude’s Simeon Egbegbullem, that he “would make oil companies pay seriously for the gas they flare” because “every company here should try to do what we are doing”.

This, of course, is standard policy in the industrialised West. In the U.S.A., for instance, natural gas is being extracted in the state of Wyoming.  But according to a report in The Star-Tribune, the oil companies will start paying royalties on flared gar within 15 days after burning starts!

Nigeria, of course, cannot be so rigid–because we don’t have the infrastructure to move gas from remote areas. But we can, and must, do a lot better than we’re doing.

My fervent wish is that the forthcoming legislation, which Senator Bukola Saraki, Chairman of the Senate’s Environment Committee, recently announced, will be a radical departure from the toothless flaring laws of the past: This new bill should have some bite.