Environmental Impacts of Gas Flaring and Its Solutions
|What is Gas Flaring?
Gas flaring is the singular and most common sources of global warming and contributes to emissions of carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen (II) oxide and methane which have the propensity of causing environmental pollution and ecological disturbances or destruction.
It is the burning of natural gas and other petroleum hydrocarbons in flare stakes by upstream oil companies in oil field during operation. The associated gas, a by-product of the petroleum exploration activities, is separated from the oil at flow-stations and more than 95% of this is flared. The burning of such gases releases huge volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, while emitted sulphur dioxide returns to the soil as acid rain.
Environmental Impacts of Gas Flaring
Acid precipitation or acid rain is one of the major environmental problems that have characterized the oil-producing countries in recent times and causes significant impacts on freshwater, coastal, and mangroves ecosystems.
While there are various sources of anthropogenic contaminants, flaring of petroleum-associated gas and combustion of fossil fuel are the main sources of oxides of nitrogen NOx (a mixture of NO and NO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions. The atmospheric pollutants of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are the main causes of acid rain.
Sulphur dioxide is not readily oxidized to sulfur trioxide in dry clean air. Water droplets and dust particles however, catalyze the reaction between O2 and SO2 in the air producing sulphur trioxide. This is seen in the equations below;
SO¬2(g) + 1/2O2(g) → SO3(g)
This dissolves in water and produces sulphuric acid which is a much stronger acid.
H2O(l) + SO3(g) → H2SO4(aq)
(strong acids ionizes completely to hydrogen ions)
H2SO4(aq) →2H+(aq) + SO42-(aq)
Also, nitrogen gas combines with oxygen to form nitrogen monoxide
N2(g) + O2(g) → 2NO(g)
The nitrogen monoxide slowly combines with oxygen to form soluble nitrogen dioxide gas
2NO(g) + O2(g) → 2NO2(g)
Nitrogen dioxide readily dissolves in water producing a mixture of nitric and nitrous acids
2NO2(g) + H2O(l) → HNO3(aq) + HNO2(g)
Acidic rain is a complex mixture of nitrous, nitric, and sulphuric acids which all combine to lower the pH of rain water below 5.0. Acid precipitation may contribute to local and regional environmental problems such as reduction in species richness (reduces fish population as it lowers the pH of water in lakes), impact on agriculture and forests, and other physical infrastructure (damaging buildings).
SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH GAS FLARING
1. Enactment and Implementation of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)
This bill stipulates that natural gas shall not be flared or vented in any oil and gas production operation, oil block, field, onshore, offshore, or gas facility, unless under exceptional and temporary circumstances. The passing of this bill into law would signal oil firms operating in the country that it is no longer business as usual.
2. Clear Separation of the Functions of Governmental Agencies
The overlapping and sometimes conflicting jurisdiction of the different governmental quangos governing the petroleum sector and the environment have always been a bane on the effective implementation of anti-flaring and environmental regulations in the country. Thus, it is pertinent that the government should put clear boundaries between the functions of one agency and that of another.
3. Effective Monitorinig of the Nigerian Gas Flare Tracker And Penalizing Offenders Appropriately
In November 2014, the Federal Government launched a gas flaring tracker system which monitors the volume of gas flared by oil firms as well as amount of fine due to be paid by facility owners. However, most of the defaulting firms fail to comply with the fine either as a result of ineffective monitoring of the tracking system or ineffective enforcement of the penalties by the appropriate agencies. Thus, the appropriate agencies should endeavor to effectively monitor the tracking system as well as enforce the appropriate penalties on defaulting oil facilities. Also, the fine should be high enough to discourage oil companies from gas flaring as stopping the act should be the major aim of the government and not making money through the fines.
4. Sufficient Investment In Gas Infrastructure
The government should encourage oil companies to invest adequately in gas infrastructure so as to enable them harness and convert the natural gases into useful products that will serve the needs of the populace, bring in additional foreign exchange, improve electricity generation as well as minimize environmental degradation.