Recently in France about more than 3,000 people suffered and died from heat wave related health conditions. To this effect, environmentalists in Nigeria, especially in the Niger Delta region has been raising alarm that if the threat of global warming stemming from Gas flaring is not checked and controlled in the tropical zones of sub-Sahara Africa. Nigeria may experience heat wave health hazards cases, worse than that of France because of the radioactive materials used for oil and gas exploration, exploitation, mining and production. So far, in feelings of remorse for the high death toll, the head of French health authority Mr. Lucien Abenhaim have resigned. The killer heat in France rose to about 40 degrees Celsius and 104 in some areas of the romantic country.
Interestingly, Niger Delta environmentalists have welcomed in Nigeria the timely action of the Lower House of Nigeria’s National Assembly insisting that gas flaring in the country must stop in 2004; because of the continuous lose of revenue and the attendant environmental destruction. The chairman of the House committee on gas resources Mercy Almona-Isei confirmed that it was on the basis of the complaint that the presidency, without seeking the approval of the entire House of the National Assembly before extending the date to stop gas flaring in the country to 2008.
EFFECTS OF GAS FLARING AND SOLUTIONS
Concisely, gas flaring is the complex and the un-scientific burning, emitting of excess hydrocarbons gathered in an oil gas production flow station sites to waste the unutilized quantities and separate the resultant unwanted chemicals used in the process of extracting the oil and gas from the natural reservoirs.
Nigeria produces more than 400 barrels of oil at present in response to the oil quota agreement reached by members of the organization of petroleum exporting countries (OPEC). She also produces about 3 billion cubic feet of natural gas as co- product of raw crude oil with a proven reserve of 600 trillion standard cubic feet. Out of this number about 2.2 billion cubic feet of the total natural gas produced jointly in the country by the multi-transnational companies-Shell Petroleum Development Company SPDC, Nigeria Agip Oil company NAOC, TOTAL/EPNL Elf Petroleum Nigeria Limited, EXONMOBILE Producing Unlimited TEXCO (Oversea) Nigeria Petroleum and CHEVRON Nigeria Limited is flared daily.
However, research findings have shown that Nigeria loses enormous revenue and is faced with the threats of environmental pollution and un-quantifiable degradation. And in a one part solution to stop gas flaring in Nigeria, a liquefied natural gas plant was established at Bonny in Rivers State by the federal government and the multi-transnational oil and gas corporations operating in the country to promote the export of natural gas, utilization and to discourage zero gas flaring.
But even as Nigeria have started exporting liquefied natural gas to Europe and other parts of the world, Niger Delta environmentalists are skeptical about when gas flaring will stop in the nearest future in, because of the controversies arising from the shifting of the targeted period to stop the over 40 years of prolong gas flaring in the region. The year originally selected to stop or to reduce gas flaring in the Niger Delta producing Communities 2004 but now extended to 2010 by President Olusegun Obasanju. The major stakeholders in the industry claims that as at the first quarter of 2005 that Nigeria claims to have reached 50% zero gas flare.
The writer is of the opinion that the years to stop gas flaring has become politicized in a way, while the effects of gas flaring in oil bearing communities in Niger Delta will continue to have its health implications and impact. Their habitations will continue to be polluted, degraded, dehumanized, with prolong gas flaring which brings about the emissions of smoke, soot, smog and other acidic particles that constitutes serious health hazards and pose significant or major risk of respiratory track diseases.
Other health hazards and effects associated to gas flaring and oil pollution includes; increased environmental temperature, heat-wave/mental heat and of course global warming. This condition dehydrates surroundings, habitats, eco-system, food chain, nitrogen cycle, oxygen cycle, flora and fauna, animals and vegetations that thereby cause their actual deaths or poor yields of environmental resources.
The presence of carbon and traces of nitrogen and sulfur in natural gas leads to the production of various oxides and sulfides, when these chemicals are inhaled through the flaring it settles in nostrils down to the lungs as thick carbon monoxide, which blocks the passage of oxygenated blood to the heart of human beings and animals.
The oxides and sulfides in hydro-carbon with gaseous chemicals when flared combine with water in the atmosphere to form various types of corrosive acids such as nitric and sulfurous acids that irritates the human skin and prevent plants chlorophyll from functioning. This also leads to cancer of the skin and corrode galvanized roofing sheets close to oil and gas production zones like Egi-Ali-Ogba Clan communities in Rivers State.
Gaseous acids like cadmium, benzene and calcium also pollutes streams, natural water ways like swamps, creeks, ponds, including arable farm lands rivers soil nutrients and thereby killing fishes, aquatic animals and plants and stave human beings of source of water.
The re-injection of natural gas would also be harmful, if the injected gas escapes to the earth surface and when it ignites the result is wide fire and pollution, including destruction of lives and property and seismic activities leads to permanent damage of farmlands including buildings.
ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE OF GAS
In spite of the present and clear danger therein and the ever increasing growth of environmental activism all over the world, natural gas can be used for the operation of fleets of industrial equipments, plants, machineries, vehicles and cars that use diesel and petrol for transportation at the national and international level.
In business and in other commercial activities Petroleum and natural gas enhances the construction of electric generating plants or energy supply source like gas turbine. The export of quality liquefied natural gas and diesel would earn Nigeria desired hard currency, increase our foreign reserve and service our foreign debit, which will increase our per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Natural gas as dangerous as it is, if managed scientifically has wide application in refrigeration and airconditioner. This is a sure way for discontinuing the use of chlorofluoro compound, which is contributing significantly to the depletion of the ozone layer, global warming and the resultant heat wave.
Nigeria is currently the 8th leading oil producer and exporter in the world. However, the economic benefits of these natural resources have not been shared with most of its large indigenous populations. And, for the past 40 years, oil and gas exploration, drilling and pipelines have caused a series of environmental and health problems. Government, the organized private sector, and all the stakeholders in the oil and gas industry in with their foreign counterparts should join hands to make more effort in the promotion of even utilization of liquefied natural gas in factories, medium scale industries and create other avenues that will lead to the optimum stoppage of gas flaring in Nigeria. They should also develop new critical sectors like plastic and fertilizer manufacturing industry in the Nigerian economy, in order to reduce poverty in Egi-Ali-Ogba Clan through the establishment of such industries.
IKORO, N. J. (2003). Published by Du-France Communications, 23 Captain Amangala Street, Opposite Police Headquarters. Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. Branch Office: 29 Ikerrew Road, Mile I, Diobu, P.O. Box 12256 Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria.