Monday, August 24, 2009

Ambivalence over Gas Flaring

Again, the goal post for gas flaring has been shifted till December 31 next year. And Nigerians can only hope that it is the last. In the last six years, the goal post, deadline, has been shifted four times. The last shift was in December 2008 by the Yar’Adua government. Although the Senate which recently passed the Gas Flaring (Prohibition and Punishment) Bill seemed determined to ensure that the goal post does not move again, it is amazing that given the detrimental effects of gas flaring, the country has continued to tolerate the practice for this long. On all fronts, the gas flaring practice is reprehensible. Nigeria is considered the second highest offender of gas flaring. The worth of the flared gas according to the World Bank is put at $2.5 billion annually. The opportunity cost could be much higher. We are aware that the reasons for the shifting post are basically two. The defence of the oil companies and the Federal Government’s ambivalence, which must have caused a 1993 court ruling against gas flaring to be ignored. The oil companies have always argued that contrary to the belief of some people, the flares are not like candle lights that can easily be blown off. Gas is naturally produced with the crude oil, the country’s cash cow. To put good use to the flared gas it must be collected at every flowstation and exported in gas pipelines over kilometres of land and water to where it can be used. They say that unlike now when new gas production facilities have in-built technology to gather gas, most of the old facilities do not have this technology so there has to be fresh investment in gas-gathering plants. According to the oil majors, these are capital-intensive projects with long gestation period that do not only need timely funding, but uninterrupted execution. They readily point to the insecurity in the Niger Delta and its effects on project execution.But opponents to flaring have been insistent that gas flaring is injurious to human beings and the environment and the oil companies have been blamed for the continuous gas flaring in the country. They have been accused of disobeying the laws of the land just because they have the resources to pay the imposed penalty, and choosing out of selfishness, to ignore the environmental and health hazards associated with gas flaring. With growing concern for global warming, there can be no justification for gas flaring. However, as we have said before, the continuous flaring of gas is the result of the Federal Government’s indecision largely informed by the desire to eat its cake and have it. It is obvious that enforcing government’s deadline will mean oil production shut-in and oil revenue loss. And so, with dwindling oil revenue caused by a slump in oil prices and the Niger Delta, the true question to ask is whether the Federal Government, has the political will to enforce a deadline.The position of the National Assembly on this is clear on this. They have always wanted the flaring to stop. And with the bold step of legislation to walk the talk we think President Yar’ Adua should bite the bullet and save the country all the losses associated with gas flaring. One thing is sure: Government cannot eat its cake and have it. Neither can it walk both sides of the street. With growing international cooperation to stop global warming and the condemnation of practices that tend to contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer, Nigeria can only move one way – join the rest of the world.