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High-emitting gas flaring practice under fire in Nigeria

The Niger Delta is among the most polluted regions in the world, with more than 7,000 oil spills between 1970 and 2000 that have yet to be cleaned up. Creative Commons: Terry Whalebone, 2007.

The Niger Delta is among the most polluted regions in the world, with more than 7,000 oil spills between 1970 and 2000 that have yet to be cleaned up. Creative Commons: Terry Whalebone, 2007.

Routine gas flaring, an activity that occurs at oil production sites, emits the equivalent in emissions from 70 million cars around the world.

Beyond its environmental impacts, this practice — likened “burning gas notes” — also blazes through enough gas to power millions of households every year. In Nigeria alone, the world’s second leading gas flaring site after Russia, annual losses amount to nearly two billion dollars a year, according to local environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey.

In addition to these major losses, Bassey also raises many flags about the adverse health impacts brought onto to people living along the oil-rich Niger Delta. He said:

“This gas that is being flared in the oil fields equally impacts human health as it causes acid rain, cancer, breathing difficulties, skin and other diseases such as bronchitis and asthma and acid rain.”

After extracting crude oil, many producers will simply burn or flare off the newly surfaced natural gas whenever means are unavailable to transport natural gas as it is the cheapest way for them to get rid of the byproduct. In countries like Nigeria, the practice is technically illegal, but producers only face penalties of $3.50 per 1000 standard cubic feet of gas flared.

The Gas Flare Tracker website is one of the latest measures put in place to help tackle this problem. This initiative, commissioned by Nigeria’s Ministry of Environment, aggregates satellite data onto an interactive map, indicating the location of the flare, how much gas is being flared and who is responsible for the flare. Prior to this project, there was no way of truly knowing how much gas was really being flared.

Referring to the tracker, Lawrencia Laraba-Mallam, Nigeria’s Minister for Environment said:

“Anytime we attend foreign conferences, you know, we hear other countries tell the amount of gas released into the atmosphere, but we guess. But from today, we will not guess, we will give the correct amount, because of this tracker.”

The World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) aims to bring an end to routine gas flaring by 2030, deeming a complete phase out of this practice “one very tangible way the oil and gas industry can show leadership on mitigating the effects of climate change.”

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