Monday, February 16, 2015

Climate and Health Suffer as Gas Still Goes Up in Smoke

Storm clouds gather as gas is flared at an oil rig off the coast of Nigeria. (Credit: Swandau via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
It’s like burning banknotes.  Latest statistics from the World Bank (WB) indicate that the amount of gas flared each year is enough energy to supply electricity to several small countries or many millions of households.

The flaring of 140 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year releases large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and that is not only bad news for the climate, but also for human health.

The WB estimates that flaring results in total annual global carbon dioxide emissions of 350 million tones.  Eliminating the burning of gas at hundreds of oil production sites round the world would be the equivalent, in terms of emissions savings, of taking 70 million cars off the road.

Flared gas is often contaminated with toxic compounds and cancer causing carcinogens such as benzene.  And in Nigeria’s Niger Delta − the country’s main oil production area and a region where flaring has been going on for several decades − villagers complain of skin diseases and breathing problems.

Toxic chemicals
Flaring has other impacts.  Those living near flaring sites in Nigeria say agricultural yields have dropped due to contamination of the land by acid rain.  The toxic chemicals in the flared gases are also blamed for corroding the metal roofs of houses in the area.

The process of flaring takes place when there are no facilities to harness the gas that is produced along with oil − or when companies decide it is uneconomical to process and pipe the gas.

The WB’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR), launched in 2002, is a public-private initiative aimed at halting routine gas flaring by 2030. The idea is to persuade the oil companies and state-run petroleum organisations to work together to reduce flaring at oil drilling sites.
Shell and other international companies say they are taking action to end flaring in Nigeria and elsewhere.

In 2012, Shell and its Nigerian government partner announced a $4billion spending programme on oil and gas projects, including a facility to capture gas and reduce flaring.

But industry analysts point out that with the halving of oil prices in the last six months, oil companies are increasingly wary about embarking on big new investment projects.

So flaring, in Nigeria and elsewhere, is likely to continue for some considerable time yet.

Read more at Climate and Health Suffer as Gas Still Goes Up in Smoke

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