Gas Flaring: The Need To Rescue The Environmental And Economic Degradation

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

The first-ever globally consistent survey commissioned by the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFRP) has established that the African continent’s efforts to reduce gas flaring are succeeding. Africa was formerly the highest producer of gas flaring.

Nigeria, Africa’s largest producer of gas, has steadily worked towards reducing flaring, and is no longer the world’s biggest producer of gas flaring, with 23-billion cubic metres a year, after a reduction of 10-billion cubic metres a year. The study established that Russia produces twice as much flaring as Nigeria, at 50,7-billion cubic metres a year, according to the flaring volumes calibration defence meteorological satellite programme chart. Much of the region where oil is pumped is a maze of winding mangrove creeks and waterways. Leafy, green and humid, Ebocha-Egbema is an unremarkable collection of small villages with tin-roof houses and shops, located in the heart of the Rivers State in Nigeria‘s turbulent oil-producing Niger Delta. Huge flames billow in the air over Ebocha, and above them, black clouds leap into the sky. The giant gas flares operated by Agip-Nigeria belch out noxious fumes that loom over homes, farms and shops. There’s a strange smell and an audible hiss in the air. Residents of the Niger Delta region, where Ebocha is located, say gas flaring is ruining lives and livelihoods.

Nigeria is slowly working towards minimising flaring. Nigeria has established a zero or minimum flaring deadline for 2008, which is a component of the oil, gas, mining and chemicals department of the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation. The gas-flaring study has proved to be very useful for scientists who are tracking gas flaring worldwide. The study has also found that flaring has not increased over the past 12 years and has stayed stable at between 150-billion cubic metres and 170-billion cubic metres. The days of tracking gas flares through official estimates are finally over. Through the monitoring of gas flares through space, we can finally have reasonable estimates of the volumes being wasted. Now governments and companies can all have a better sense of how much gas they are actually flaring.

African countries that form part of the GGFRP and have successfully reduced flaring over the past 12 years include Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Libya, and Nigeria. Although a reduction in flaring is taking place in many countries, African countries such as Nigeria, Algeria, Angola, Libya and Gabon are still among the world’s 20 largest flaring producers.

Africa alone contributes 40-billion cubic metres of gas every year that could be used for beneficial purposes. African countries are struggling to reduce gas flaring owing to weak markets, infrastructure restrictions, underdeveloped regulatory frameworks and limited international access to gas markets. Even though such deterrents are causing a common struggle for most developing countries, the GGFRP is focusing on four vital areas to over- come these barriers, namely commercialising associated gas, setting up regulations for associated gas, implementing global flaring and venting reduction standards, and setting up capacity building to obtain carbon credits for flaring and venting reduction projects. Companies are changing their strategies towards using excess gas for energy. The only time gas flares are produced is when [not doing so] causes safety problems.

Our society has a huge demand for fuels and products derived from petrochemicals, and increasingly for ones that are cleaner and cheaper.

Several alternatives to oil are being developed, but in the shorter term none is as attractive as methane or natural gas. Natural gas including Methane would be even more attractive if it could be easily converted into a liquid. Mixture of flammable gases found in the Earth’s crust (often in association with petroleum). It is one of the world’s three main fossil fuels (with coal and oil).

Again, West Africa has been riding the crest of a wave of oil and gas exploration and development over the past few years. The rate of discovery of new reserves has been the fastest of any region over the previous five years, and western oil and gas majors have rushed to the Gulf of Guinea as a result. The region has now reached the stage where companies are beginning to look towards downstream products in order to achieve higher returns on investment, and a slew of new gas-based projects .

Natural gas, a non-renewable resource, is formed from the remains of dead plants and animals. As these plants and animals died they were buried with mud near the sea floor. Over millions of years, heat from the Earth’s interior and pressure from overlying rocks slowly changed the dead remains into hydrocarbons (substances containing hydrogen and carbon). The hydrocarbons, being light molecules, moved upwards and became trapped beneath impermeable rocks.

Every day in southern Nigeria, almost 2 mn cubic feet of natural gas is burnt during crude oil production, more than is flared anywhere else in the world. In fact, Nigeria is endowed with the tenth largest proven natural gas reserves, and according to the World Bank, gas flared in Nigeria is equivalent to total annual power generation in sub-Saharan Africa. Natural Gas reserves in Nigeria are, in energy terms , at least twice that of crude oil reserves, natural gas being in the region of 124 trillion cubic feet (TCF). At present utilisation levels, this will last for over 100 years. Natural Gas is a naturally occurring gaseous mixture of hydrocarbon gases found in underground reservoir. It consists mainly of methane (70% – 95%). With small percentages of ethane, propane, butane, pentane and other heavier hydrocarbons with some impurities such as water vapour, sulphides, carbon dioxide, etc. The ethane, propane, butane, pentane etc, hydrocarbon components of natural gas are collectively called natural gas liquids (NGLs). These NGLs are found in larger quantities in associated gas streams than in non-associated gas streams. Natural gas is a versatile and environmentally preferred fuel as it produces no soot or ash, nor pollutants and as such has a major role to play in alleviating air pollution problems. It is also cheaper than most competing fuels and has become a major source of energy for both commercial and industrial consumers as well as a chemical feedstock for numerous processes.

Gas flaring not only wastes a valuable resource, but is also a major cause of environmental pollution in the Niger River Delta, where most of Nigeria‘s oil output is produced. There is growing anger among local inhabitants at the damage caused to their health and ecosystem by oil production activities, especially gas flaring and crude oil spillage

Natural Gas is a vital component of the world’s supply of energy. It is one of the cleanest, safest, and most useful of all energy sources. Despite its importance, however, there are many misconceptions about natural gas. For instance, the word ‘gas’ itself has a variety of different uses, and meanings. When we fuel our car, we put ‘gas’ in it. However, the gasoline that goes into your vehicle, while a fossil fuel itself, is very different from natural gas. The ‘gas’ in the common barbecue is actually propane, which, while closely associated and commonly found in natural gas, is not really natural gas itself. While commonly grouped in with other fossil fuels and sources of energy, there are many characteristics of natural gas that make it unique.

The presence of large reserves of natural gas in many parts of the world – often in remote areas – is stimulating Nigeria‘s efforts to convert methane, its principal component, into liquid fuels and chemicals. Such chemical conversion processes, often called Gas-to-Liquids or GTL, will provide a more economic way of transporting gas instead of pipelines and LNG (liquefied natural gas) to the customer. These conversion technologies have the potential to create new, large, non-traditional markets for natural gas in the transportation fuel and chemical feedstock sectors.

Natural Gas is used in over 60 million homes. In addition, natural gas is used in 78 percent of restaurants, 73 percent of lodging facilities, 51 percent of hospitals, 59 percent of offices, and 58 percent of retail buildings. Natural gas, in itself, might be considered a very uninteresting gas – it is colorless, shapeless, and odorless in its pure form. Quite uninteresting – except that natural gas is combustible, and when burned it gives off a great deal of energy. Unlike other fossil fuels, however, natural gas is clean burning and emits lower levels of potentially harmful byproducts into the air. Natural gas is a highly flammable hydrocarbon gas consisting chiefly of methane (CH4). Although methane is always the chief component, it may also include other gases such as oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, ethane, ethylene, propane, and even some helium. We require energy constantly, to heat our homes, cook our food, and generate our electricity. It is this need for energy that has elevated natural gas to such a level of importance in our society, and in our lives. As a fuel, natural gas is convenient and efficient. It is used primarily for heat, in industrial, commercial and residential settings. In many homes the house and water are heated by gas, the food is cooked with it and clothes dried. It is also used to produce electricity, in many cases using gas fired turbines that are similar to jet engines. Gas has the great advantage of producing no smoke or ash on burning, although it is usually much more expensive than coal as a fuel.

Natural gas is a combustible mixture of hydrocarbon gases. While natural gas is formed primarily of methane, it can also include ethane, propane, butane and pentane. The composition of natural gas can vary widely, but below is a chart outlining the typical makeup of natural gas before it is refined.

Typical Composition of Natural Gas

Methane CH4 70-90%

Ethane C2H6 0-20%

Propane C3H8

Butane C4H10

Carbon Dioxide CO2 0-8%

Oxygen O2 0-0.2%

Nitrogen N2 0-5%

Hydrogen sulphide H2S 0-5%

Rare gases A, He, Ne, Xe trace

In its purest form, such as the natural gas that is delivered to your home, it is almost pure methane. Methane is a molecule made up of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms, and is referred to as CH4.

Ethane, propane, and the other hydrocarbons commonly associated with natural gas have slightly different chemical formulas, which can be seen here. For a closer look into the combustion of methane:

A Methane molecule, CH4

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