Nigeria’s pioneering gas flaring plan risks going down in flames

A woman empties a plastic bowl filled with tapioca, which is derived from cassava paste, on sewn sacks laid on the ground close to a gas flaring furnace in Ughelli, Delta State, Nigeria

Jonah Gbemre often has no electricity, but he says his home is permanently lit at night by the flames of waste gas being “flared” near his home town in Nigeria’s Delta State.

Like Gbemre, nearly half of Nigerians have no stable power supply, yet government attempts to harness gas belching from its oil fields to generate urgently-needed electricity or revenue have stalled.

And experts say that without progress towards its 2030 target of virtually eliminating flaring, which releases carbon dioxide along with polluting methane and soot, Nigeria cannot meet its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20%.

“This flare site makes the nights like days,” said 42-year-old Gbemre, his eyes both bloodshot and milky, something he said his doctor attributes to the burning of the waste gas.

Reuters could not establish if there was any link between Gbemre’s eye problems and the flaring. Nigeria’s National Oil Spill Detection & Response Agency has said the practice can damage human health and the environment.

After sunset, nearly 200 blinking flares dot the landscape around Port Harcourt, the Delta oil hub. Experts say the gas that Nigeria flares nationwide could be worth billions of dollars if captured and transported to be used as liquefied natural gas or for plastics or fertilizers.

But a 2016 programme by the Nigerian government to address this by auctioning rights to capture and sell flared gas is struggling, six sources close to the process told Reuters.

The coronavirus crisis has compounded delays to a project which the World Bank hoped could serve as an example in its bid to cut global warming through zero flaring globally by 2030.

Oil-producing nations all flare some gas, particularly at remote fields or where there is ageing infrastructure.

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