Oil Gas Industry Activity and the Niger Delta Environment: The Role of Environmental Law

The Nature of Wastes Associated with Oil & Gas Activity.

Most wastes arising from oil and gas activity are hazardous. Hazardous waste is any waste containing significant quantity of a substance which may present danger to the life or health of living organisms when released into the environment, to the safety of humans or equipment in disposal plants if incorrectly handled.

Effects of hazardous wastes on living organisms by physical, ingestion or inhalation are:
i) Toxic: Producing a harmful effect which may be lethal to living organisms. The following wastes exhibit toxicity: drilling fluids, muds & cuttings, technological waters, IT toner / cartridges, pesticides, herbicides, barium compounds, batteries, spent grit, degreasers, contaminated kerosene, etc.

ii) Mutagenic: Causing gene mutation in humans and animal, making the victim to give birth to abnormal and deformed offsprings. For examples, drilling fluids, muds & cuttings, technological water, etc.

iii) Carcinogenic: Causing cancerous growth in humans and animals. For examples, drilling fluids, muds & cuttings, technological waters, preservative (creosote), oil sludge, pigging waste, etc.

iv) Teratogenic: Causing deformation of the foetus in the womb of the victims. E.g. technological waters, drilling fluids, muds and cuttings ,etc.

v) Ecotoxic: They cause immediate or delayed adverse impacts to the environment by means of bioaccumulation and/or toxic effects upon biotic systems. For examples, technological waters, drilling fluids, muds and cuttings.

vi) Infectious: The wastes containing viable micro-organisms or their toxins which cause disease in humans or other animals. E.g. clinical wastes, sewage sludge, etc.

vii) Flammable/Ignitable: Capable of burning or causing a fire. For examples, degreasers, contaminated kerosene, solvents, etc.

viii) Corrosive: Capable of reacting with the surface of animals or materials and causing them to deteriorate or wear away. These include Acids/Alkalis, workover fluids, batteries, etc.

ix) Radioactive: Causing cells death or mutation, thereby affecting the health of affected persons and possibly their future generations. Health implications include genetic diseases. leukaemia, cancers, abnormal and deformed offsprings , etc. Examples include, drilling fluids, muds & cuttings, technological water, etc.

The routine flaring of oil-associated gas also results in emissions of hazardous air pollutants, which have adverse effects on the environment, animal and human health, and property. These include.

1) Particulate Matter (PM). Many scientific investigations hare liked breathing PM to the following:

a) Health effects. Aggravated asthma, respiratory symptoms, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function and premature death.
b) Visibility impairment
c) After being carried over long distances by wind the effects of settling include.

i) Making lakes and streams acidic
ii) Causing depletion of the soil nutrients
iii) Causing damage to biodiversity and ecosystems.

d) Aesthetic damage to buildings, monuments and statue of historical, cultural and religious importance.

2) Carbon Monoxide (CO):

a) Health effects:

(i) CO combines with haemoglobin forming carboxyhaemoglobin, thus
causing harmful effects by reducing oxygen delivery to the body’s organs (heart and brain) and tissues
ii) It causes chest pain
iii) It has adverse effects on central nervous system.

(b) Smog: CO contributes to the formation of smog ground – level ozone, which can initiate serious respiratory problems.

3) Nitrogen oxides (NOx)

a) Health effects.

i) NOx combine with other substances in the presence of sunlight. The products of reactions cause lung problems in children and asthmatics. They worsen respiratory diseases, aggravate existing heart disease, and cause damage to lung tissue, premature death and gene mutations.
ii) Acid rain:
NOx and SO2 combine with other substances in the atmosphere to form acid rain. Acid rain causes damages and deterioration of buildings, cars, historical monuments, forest and make-up of soil. It also causes lakes and streams to become acidic, rendering the water bodies unsuitable for many fishes.

4) Sulphur Dioxide (SO2):

a) Health effects
High levels of SO2 in the ambient environment can cause difficulty in breathing for the asthmatics who are active outdoors. Longer – term exposures to high levels can cause reparatory illness and aggravate existing heart disease. SO2 also reacts with other chemicals in the atmosphere to form tiny sulphates. The resulting sulphates, when inhaled, cause respiratory symptoms and disease, difficulty in breathing and premature death.
b) Acid Rain
c) Sulphates particles arising from SO2 cause reduced visibility.

Gas flare produces hazardous hydrocarbons such as benzene, naphthalene, styrene, toluene and xylene. Benzene causes blood disorder and leukaemia. Naphthalene has potential health effects which include cataracts, headache, abdominal pain and irritation of bladder, among others. Styrene causes irritation of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. Styrene, toluene and xylene have serious health implications affecting the central nervous system.

The Role of Law in Waste Management

The ultimate aim of environmental law is to ensure that environmental considerations are integrated into exploitation of natural resources and other development activities to achieve sustainable living. The modern environment law regulates and often forcefully restrains environmental abuses. Hence, international and local regulatory instruments are geared toward attaining the crucial balance between the exploitation of the earth’s resources and protection of the components of the ecosystem such as air, water, land, humans and other living things from pollutants and other hazards.

The Nigerian Environmental Laws / Regulations and the Prescribed Sanctions

Section 30 (1) of the, Constitution of the Federal Government 1979 guarantees the right to life. These necessarily include access to unpolluted air, land, water, etc. The following legislations and regulations contain provisions which deal with some or all of the wastes associated with oil and gas activity.

a) Criminal Code Act (Cap 77 LFN 1990)
Section 234 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence for anyone who does any thing which obstructs or causes inconvenience or damage to the public in the exercise of rights common to all members of the public. The section may be used to punish unlawful discharges of hazardous substances on public land and water. A person found guilty of an offence under this section is liable to 2 years imprisonment.

Section 245 of the Criminal Code also creates an offence for any person who fouls spring, stream, well, tank, reservoir or any water body, so as to render it unfit for the purpose which it is ordinarily used. A person who commits this offence is liable to 6 months imprisonment. Section 247 (a) of the Code further states that any person who commits noxious acts which affect public health is liable to 6 months imprisonment. The noxious acts include factories emitting gaseous hazardous substances and gas flare emissions in oil and gas activity

b) Associated Gas Re-injection Act 1979 (Cap 20 LFN 1990).
The Act charged the oil companies to stop the unhealthy gas flaring and commence re-i

njection of the oil – associated gas within 5 years of the enactment of the Act

c) Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act No. 88 of 1988 (Cap 131 LFN 1990).
The Act prohibits the discharge of hazardous substances into the air, water and land, except where such discharge is permitted or authorised under any law in force in Nigeria. Any person who violates the provision shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding N100, 000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to both such fine and imprisonment. Where the offence has been committed by a body corporate, it shall on conviction be liable to pay a fine not exceeding N500, 000 and an additional fine of N1, 000 for everyday the offence subsists. The Act also provides for the ‘lifting of corporate veil’, so that the responsible officers who created the offence can be proceeded against and punished accordingly.

d) The Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provisions) Act of 1988 (Cap 165 LFN 1990).
The Act makes it an offence for a person or corporate body to carry, transport, sell, buy, import, deposit, dump or cause to be carried, transported, sold, bought, imported, deposited, or dumped on any land or in territorial waters or Contagious Zone or Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria or its inland water ways. Most hazardous wastes generated in conjunction with oil and gas activity fall in this category.

Penalties for the offences are life imprisonment, forfeiture of the vessel and of the land by and on which the harmful waste is dumped or deposited. The officers who procure the offence for a body corporate are not allowed to hide behind the ‘corporate veil’. They are identified and punished accordingly, that is, with life imprisonment.

e) S.I. 8 National Environmental Protection (Effluent Limitation Regulation 1991).
The sanctions and penalties in (c) above are applicable here.

f) National Interim Guidelines and Standard for Industrial Effluents, Gaseous Emissions and Hazardous Wastes Management in Nigeria. Penalties contained in the regulations in (c) and (d) above may be meted out to violators of this Regulation.

g) Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry, 1991. The Regulation deals specifically with management and disposal at hazardous wastes generated in conjunction with oil and gas exploration and production activity. The regulations in (c) and (d) above may be used to convict violators of this DPR Regulation.

h) The Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Act of 1995.

i) Nigerian Radiation Safety in the Management of Naturally-occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM), 2008.

j) Nigerian Radiation Safety in Nuclear Well-Logging Regulations, 2008.

Nigeria has adequate legislations / regulations targeted at hazardous wastes, including the wastes arising from oil and gas activity. These regulations contain enforcement provisions and penalties which if properly enforced are to effect observance of the laws. However, grave problems of poor enforcement of these laws exist; causing environmental degradation, public health impairments and damage to properties. In this circumstance, it becomes imperative for the NGOs /communities to constitute themselves into pressure groups, to secure the enforcement of these environmental laws quickly and effectively.

Written by
Tayo Akeem Yusuf
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