Fossil fuels range from volatile materials with low carbon:hydrogen ratios like methane to liquids, like petroleum to non-volatile materials composed of almost pure carbon, like anthracite coal. Petrified remains of dead plants by exposure to heat and pressure in the Earth’s crust over millions of years, forms Fossil fuel. Fossil fuel was first introduced by Georgius Agricola in 1556 and later by Mikhail Lomonosov in the 18th century. According to Wikipaedia, Fossil fuels are fuels formed by natural processes such as anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms, containing energy originating in ancient photosynthesis. Fossilized fuels contain high percentages of carbon which includes petroleum, coal, and natural gas. Other commonly used derivatives include kerosene and propane, etc.
The Nigerian oil exploration of fossil fuel, dates back to 1907 when Nigerian Bitumen Corporation conducted exploratory work in the country, however, the firm left the country at the onset of World War I. Thereafter, licenses were given to D’Arcy Exploration Company and Whitehall Petroleum. Nevertheless, neither company found oil of commercial value and they returned their licenses in 1923. A new license covering 357,000 square miles (920,000 square kilometres) was given to a new firm called Shell D’arcy Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria. The new firm was a consortium of Shell and British Petroleum (then known as Anglo-Iranian). The company began exploratory work in 1937. The consortium was granted license to explore oil all over the territory of Nigeria but in 1951 and then between 1955 and 1957, the acreage allotted to the company in the original license was reduced. Drilling activities started in 1951 and the first test well was drilled in Owerri area. Oil was discovered in non-commercial quantities at Akata, near Eket in 1953. Shell-BP in the pursuit of commercially available petroleum found oil in Oloibiri, Nigeria in 1956. Other important oil wells discovered during the period were Afam and Bomu in OGONI territory. Production of crude oil began in 1957 and in 1960, a total of 847,000 tonnes of crude oil was exported
However, Nigeria Petroleum industry is the largest on the African continent. As of 2014, Nigeria’s petroleum industry contributes about 14% to its economy. Over 58 years since the discovery of crude oil (black gold) in Nigeria, the nation suddenly awoke to a huge source of income generation. This was followed by the gradual slinking away of the many other sources of income that had supported the country through its pre-oil period, one of which is agriculture and aquaculture. The oil boom brought about a great revenue turnaround for Nigeria and further brought it to international limelight as a major oil producing country in Africa but it also brought about a complete and senseless desecration of the environment especially in the oil sector, loss of indigenous occupation among local communities, corrupt practices, conflict and rural to urban migration in search of perceived oil related white cola jobs among others.
Nigeria flares 17.2 billion m3 of natural gas per year in conjunction with the exploration of crude oil in the Niger Delta. This high level of gas flaring is equal to approximately one quarter of the current power consumption of the African continent. Even though we have grown to be fairly dependent on oil and it has become the centre of current industrial development and economic activities, we rarely consider how oil exploration and exploitation processes create environmental, health, and social problems in local communities near oil producing fields.
The Nigerian government has not enforced environmental regulations effectively because of the overlapping and conflicting jurisdiction of separate governmental agencies governing petroleum and the environment as well as because of non-transparent governance mechanisms. Neither the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) nor the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has implemented anti-flaring policies for natural gas waste from oil production, nor have they monitored the emissions to ensure compliance. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) has had the authority to issue standards for water, air and land pollution and has had the authority to make regulations for oil industry. However, in some cases their regulations conflict with the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR)’s regulations started in 1991 for oil exploration.
Petroleum exploitation and production in the Niger Delta over the years have resulted in a number of environmental, socio-economic and political problems in the region. Oil spillage and gas flaring have caused severe environmental damages, loss of plants, animals and human lives, and loss of revenue to both the oil producing companies and the government. Petroleum exploration, exploitation, production, storage, distribution and transportation activities affect the environment in a conspicuously negative manner. Vegetations are removed to make way for seismic lines and sites. Storage, distribution and transportation of oil and gas using Tankers and pipeline network result in some quantities of petroleum products being released into the environment.
From an economic perspective, the Nigerian government’s main interest in the oil industry is to maximize its monetary profits from oil production. Oil companies find it more economically expedient to flare the natural gas and pay the insignificant fine than to re-inject the gas back into the oil wells. Additionally, because there is an insufficient energy market especially in rural areas, oil companies do not see an economic incentive to collect the gas. From a social perspective, the oil-producing communities have experienced severe marginalization and neglect. The environment and human health have frequently been a secondary consideration for oil companies and the Nigerian government. However, although there may be reasons for the continuous oil explorations, there are many strong arguments suggesting that it should be stopped. Corporations’ accountability to the people and environment surrounding them imply that oil companies should be required to re-inject the gas, to recover it, or to shut down any extraction facilities in which the gas flaring is occurring. Because of this massive oil exploration in the Niger Delta and Rivers State, the ramifications for human health, local culture, indigenous self-determination, and the environment are severe. As is the case in most oil producing regions of less developed countries, the economic and political benefits are given significantly more weight by the government than the resulting damage to the environment and human health. However, as far as this topic is concerned, it will be pertinent to discuss the Environmental and health implications of Oil exploration in Nigeria.
Gas flaring contributes to climate change, which has serious implications for both Nigeria and the rest of the world. The burning of fossil fuel, mainly coal, oil and gas-greenhouse gases-has led to warming up the world and is projected to get much, much worse during the course of the 21st century according to the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC). This scientific body was set up in 1988 by the UN and the World Meteorological Organization to consider climate change. Climate change is particularly serious for developing countries, and Africa as a continent is regarded as highly vulnerable with limited ability to adapt. Gas flaring contributes to climate change by emission of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Venting of the gas without burning, a practice for which flaring seems often to be treated as a synonym, releases methane, the second main greenhouse gas. Together and crudely, these gases make up about 80% of global warming to date.
Drilling mud and oil sometimes find their way to the streams, surface waters and land thus making them unfit for consumption nor habitable by man or animal. This problem has been produced by a range of international oil companies which have been in operation for over four decades. The economic and environmental ramifications of this high level of gas flaring are serious because this process is a significant waste of potential fuel which is simultaneously polluting water, air, and soil in Ogoni land and the Niger Delta.
Acid rains have been linked to the activities of gas flaring. Corrugated roofs in the Delta region have been corroded by the composition of the rain that falls as a result of flaring. The primary causes of acid rain are emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NO) which combine with atmospheric moisture to form sulfuric acid and nitric acid respectively. Size and environmental philosophy in the industry have very strong positive impact on the gas-flaring-related CO2 emission.
Acid rain acidifies lakes and streams and damages vegetation. In addition, acid rain accelerates the decay of building materials and paints. Prior to falling to the earth, SO2 and NO2 gases and their particulate matter derivatives, sulfates and nitrates, contribute to visibility degradation and harm public health.
The flares associated with gas flaring give rise to atmospheric contaminants. These include oxides of Nitrogen, Carbon and Sulphur (NO2, CO2, CO, SO2), particulate matter, hydrocarbons and ash, photochemical oxidants, and hydrogen sulphide (H2S). These contaminants acidify the soil, hence depleting soil nutrient. Previous studies have shown that the nutritional value of crops within such vicinity of Niger Delta and Rivers state are reduced. In some cases, there is no vegetation in the areas surrounding the flare due partly to the tremendous heat that is produced and acid nature of soil pH.
The effects of the changes in temperature on crops included stunted growth, scotched plants and such other effects as withered young crops. Reference concluded that the soils of the study area are fast losing their fertility and capacity for sustainable agriculture due to the acidification of the soils by the various pollutants associated with gas flaring in the area.
The implication of gas flaring on human health are all related to the exposure of those hazardous air pollutants emitted during incomplete combustion of gas flare. These pollutants are associated with a variety of adverse health impacts, including cancer, neurological, reproductive, haemoglobin and developmental effects. Deformities in children, lung damage and skin problems have also been reported.
Hydrocarbon compounds are known to cause some adverse changes in hematological parameters. These changes affect blood and blood-forming cells negatively. And could give rise to anemia (aplastic), pancytopenia and leukaemia.
Oil exploration causes a range of environmental problems. These include: contamination of both surface and ground water by benzene, xylene, toluene, and ethylbenzene; contamination of soil by oil spill and leaks; increased deforestation; as well as the economic loss and environmental degradation stemming from gas flaring. In order to address the problems of gas flaring, it is necessary to understand why the natural gas is being flared. Because oil and natural gas are mixed in every oil deposit, the natural gas called “associated gas” (AG) must be removed from oil before refining. Gas flaring is simply the burning of this associated gas. Gas flaring is currently illegal in most countries of the world, where gas flaring may only occur in certain circumstances such as emergency shutdowns, non-planned maintenance, or disruption to the processing system.
Nigerian Government should pay more attention to the activities of militants engaged in oil bunkering as some of the spills in the oil rich region occur due to this. A thorough and planned clean up will provide immediate employment for thousands of disaffected youths that are currently taking up arms, kidnapping and disrupting the lives of the people of Niger Delta. In addition, Government should ensure that regulatory bodies have the authority to sanction oil companies who spill oil in the region. More and strict laws with stiffer penalties should be passed so that oil companies are more mindful of their activities and the spills that they cause. Although Nigeria is highly dependent on oil as a means of foreign exchange and revenue but it is time to diversify the Economy. Recession to Nigerian economy was caused by over dependency in Oil. The government is unlikely to want to discourage the presence of foreign oil companies that drill for oil in the oil rich region despite the spills that their activities cause. A shift from the dependence on oil to other sources of revenue such as agriculture and aquaculture will make it more likely for stricter laws and stiffer penalties for organisations guilty of oil spills to be implemented.
More so, it is time for youth and non Governmental organisations on climate change to rise up and put a halt to this menace called Fossil fuel. Clean energy is the solution.