gas flaringIf you think the US Gulf Coast disaster was bad, you should check out the Niger delta. The environment and health of the people in that region have been devastated by the petroleum and oil industries, and when residents speak up, they’re literally silenced by the government—with the support of oil companies like Shell and Chevron. One of the greatest sources of pollution from these industries is gas flaring. Via Justice In Nigeria Now » Gas Flaring:

What is gas flaring?

Gas flaring is the burning of natural gas that is associated with crude oil when it is pumped up from the ground. In petroleum-producing areas where insufficient investment was made in infrastructure to utilize natural gas, flaring is employed to dispose of this associated gas.

What do gas flares look like?

Watch this film to see and learn about health and environmental destruction of flaring in the Niger Delta:

What are the global impacts of gas flaring?

After Russia, Nigeria flares more gas than any other country in the world, in terms of the total volume of gas flared. In 2004 Nigeria’s volume of gas flared was equivalent to one-sixth of total gas flaring in world. Globally, the volume of gas flared between 1996-2006 (during which time awareness of the detrimental impact of flare emissions on the global climate grew) remained relatively constant, ranging between 150-170 billion cubic meters. Nigeria’s share of the total volume is approximately 24.1 billion cubic meters of gas. (By comparison, the U.S. flared 2.8 billion cubic meters during the same time period).

Gas flaring not only wastes a potentially valuable source of energy (natural gas), it also adds significant carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Moreover, flaring combustion is typically incomplete, releasing substantial amounts of soot and carbon monoxide, which contribute to air pollution problems.

An array of technologies to capture or use of the associated natural gas exist as viable alternatives to flaring. It can be reinjected, which boosts oil production and contains the gas; transported via gas pipelines; converted to liquids that can be more readily transported; or used on site. Note that most Nigerian villages lack electricity and access to fuel for vehicles.

What about local impacts?

In Nigeria, oil companies engage in gas flaring, as a 24 hour-a-day, 365 day-a-year practice. Some of these flares have burned without cessation for 40 years. People live literally next door to the roaring, ground-level flares that leap as high as a several-story building and belch black clouds of toxic smoke in the middle of, or next door to, their villages. As mentioned above, these flares are large enough to be viewed on Google Earth. Gas flaring harms local health through emissions that have been linked to cancers, asthma, chronic bronchitis, blood disorders, and other diseases. These human health problems affect the people of oil-producing communities, such as the Niger Delta, where 30 million people live with little to no health care access.

Gas flaring causes acid rain, which impacts soil fertility and is associated with reduced crop yields, causing hunger in the Niger Delta where fish populations already have declined due to pollution by oil companies, including Chevron. Acid rain eats through villagers roofs that protect local residents from rain. Impoverished villagers have little means to replace their roofs more frequently.

Learn more about gas flaring and what you can do to help at Justice in Nigeria Now.