Studies show that penalties, corruption and laws do not prevent harmful gas flaring in Nigeria

Legislation is failing to end Nigeria’s gas flaring, which harms the environment and people’s health, a new study warns.

Legal penalties for oil companies are ineffective and not strong enough to act as a deterrent, making it cheaper and easier to pollute air and water.

One expert has warned of loopholes in the law that give the government discretionary powers in issuing gas flaring permits and could be abused by oil companies.

Nigeria currently contributes significantly to the total amount of greenhouse gases produced in Africa through emissions from its oil and gas industry in the Niger Delta.

The study by Dr. Urenmisan Afinotan of the University of Exeter Law School shows how superficial efforts to stop gas flaring in the Niger Delta have been from the 1960s to the present day, as they involve weak penalties, convenient loopholes and the granting of wide discretion by the Petroleum Secretary and appear to be driven by economic gains and not by climate change considerations.

Court attempts to tackle climate change by halting gas flaring have had better results. However, the legal stance of the courts in Nigeria still appears to favor the government’s economic interests over climate change considerations.

Nigeria has legal, regulatory and judicial measures in place to meet its international commitments to combat and mitigate climate change. However, until recently there was no specific legal framework for climate change in Nigeria. The recently passed Nigeria Climate Change Act (December 2021) is too young to assess its effectiveness in mitigating climate change in Nigeria.

Gas flares are formed when the additional gases from crude oil drilling and production processes are burned off into the atmosphere. Nigeria is a significant contributor to about 65 percent of the world’s total gas flared, with about 60 percent of associated gas being flared, effectively making it the country with the world’s worst gas flaring record.

Since 1969 there have been some regulatory attempts to stop gas flaring in Niger Delta communities. Most recently, the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA, 2021) required that oil companies licensed and leased to explore for oil should submit a viable feasibility study for the use of associated gas within five years of commencing operations. This did not prevent gas flaring before the feasibility study was prepared, nor did it impose penalties for gas flaring before and after the study was submitted. This invariably meant oil companies were allowed to flare gas for five years without penalties.

The Associated Gas Re-Injection Act (AGRA) gives the Petroleum Secretary the ability to authorize gas flaring if he deems that re-injection or use of the gas is not feasible. This left the door open for oil companies to corruptly obtain permits and licenses for gas flaring.

The Associated Gas Re-Injection (Continued Flaring of Gas) Regulations (AGRA Regulations) allowed gas flaring under certain conditions and mandated absurdly low fines that made it more economically viable for oil companies to flare associated gas rather than reinject or re-inject it use it. These conditions, or exceptions, automatically exempted about 86 of 155 possible oil fields owned by multinational oil companies from regulations or penalties. The AGRA regulations had no impact on the cessation of flaring and the use or reinjection of gas.

Although the percentage of gas flared in Nigeria has been reported to have decreased since 2002, standing at 10 percent as of 2018, there have been reports of new gas flare facilities being constructed by oil companies such as Shell on oil fields in the Niger Delta since 2013.

Nigeria’s new National Gas Policy (NGP) aimed to end gas flaring by 2030. The associated regulation provides a legal framework to protect Niger Delta communities and the broader Nigerian environment from the harmful effects of gas flaring and climate change. It also has the potential to derive social and economic benefits from associated gas that would normally be flared and wasted in oil production. The rules authorize the federal government to appropriate all flare gas held by oil producing companies that own oil exploration licenses, leases and peripheral fields.

dr Afinotan said: “A new commercialization program for gas flaring could drastically reduce gas flaring in the Niger Delta and generate gas revenue for the federal government.

“It is worrying that the Minister’s discretionary power to issue flare gas permits to oil companies, as contained in the AGRA, has also been retained in the 2018 Flare Gas Regulations. These discretionary powers can be corrupted or abused by the oil companies using their financial power and influence to obtain permits from the Minister by exercising his discretionary powers.

“Only time will tell, especially when the courts are asked to interpret the provisions of the regulation. Gas flaring is still a daily occurrence in the Niger Delta.”

The Petroleum Industry Act, which stalled in August 2021 after more than a decade of legislation, does not unequivocally ban gas flaring but requires oilfield operators to implement a plan for elimination and monetization within 12 months of obtaining a license of natural gas flares present to operate. Gas flaring is still permitted, albeit under certain conditions. This was seen as yet another half-hearted attempt to stop Nigeria’s gas flaring.

The study analyzes recent oil-related cases heard by the Nigerian judiciary, which prioritize the economic benefits and interests of the harmful oil and gas industry over the industry’s negative impact on the environment and the lives of residents in host communities.

More information:
Urenmisan Afinotan, How serious is Nigeria about mitigating climate change by regulating gas flaring in the Niger Delta?, Review of environmental law (2022). DOI: 10.1177/14614529221137142

Provided by the University of Exeter

Citation: Penalties, Corruption and Legislation Prevent Noxious Gas Flaring in Nigeria, Study Shows (2022, December 23) Retrieved December 25, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-12-penalties-corruption-legislation -deter-gas.html

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