However, Section 104 of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021 provides that a licensee, lessee, or marginal oil field operator can only flare or vent gas in the event of an emergency, where exemption has been granted by the Commission, and where such flare is the acceptable safety practice under the regulation. The penalty is a fine as stipulated by the Commission. This penalty is not enough to curb this act. The ripple effect of this is the triggering of the locals in these communities where this gas extraction happens, which in turn breaches the peace in these communities and overall investments in these areas.
Section 106(1) of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021 provides for the installation of metering equipment by the licensee or lessee in every facility where natural gas may be flared or vented before the commencement of petroleum production, and non-compliance attracts a fine that the Authority may prescribe. Under Section 107 of the Act, a licensee or lessee producing natural gas shall, within 12 months of the effective date, submit a natural gas flare elimination and monetization plan to the Authority, in conformity with the regulations formulated under the Act. However, weak enforcement is a challenge to its efficiency.
In 2005, the Federal High Court ruled that oil companies stop flaring gas in the Niger Delta. The judgement was made in the case of Jonah Gbemre v Shell Petroleum Development Company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Nigeria’s Attorney General. The Court held that gas flaring was unconstitutional as it violated people’s right to a clean and healthy environment, and ordered them to take immediate steps to stop gas flaring. The Attorney General was further ordered to ensure speedy amendment of the associated Gas Re-injection Act, to be in line with Nigeria’s human rights obligations under both the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter.
Nigeria is a signatory to the 2001 Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership principles that aim at a flare-out date of 2030. In compliance with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Nigeria submitted its First Nationally Determined Contribution in July 2021. Among other things, it pledged to end gas flaring by 2030. However, Niger Delta-based environmental activists doubt the government’s commitment to such a plan, especially considering the many previously unattained deadlines.
Despite many commitments to take action, the race to Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 in Nigeria is undermined by inconsistent policies, weak implementation and an apparent lack of political will by successive administrations. Between 1969 and 2020, 10 deadlines to end gas flaring in the Niger Delta were changed.
Combating gas flaring is part of Nigeria’s international obligation under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, among others. To reduce the threat to human health and the environment and to boost the revenue of the federal government, flared gas must be utilised to generate electricity to improve the economic and social welfare of the citizens.
The right to life extends far beyond protection against intentional or unintentional physical harm. It includes safeguards against potentially hazardous activities such as gas flaring, which may hamper a healthy, clean, and safe environment, which are sine qua non or a perquisite to right to life.
The Government must not allow oil firms to conduct their operations in a way that endangers human life. Unsustainable exploitation of extractive resources undermines the sustainability of oil and gas resources; therefore, there is a need for a balance between economic development and sustainable development, and this can only be achieved if there is a political will on the part of the Federal Government, to enforce its anti-gas flaring laws to guarantee energy security and a safe, clean, and healthy environment in Nigeria.
The Nigerian government can also tackle this environmental problem by making the provision of Section 20 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria justifiable. A law should be enacted that would make environmental pollution a strict liability offence, as is the case in developed countries, and enforce compliance of multinational oil corporations (MNCs) with national and international environmental laws and standards. The government should not give an option of a fine alone, as gas flaring should also be criminalised and any corporation that refuses to halt flaring should be shut down. The pneumatic system of waste control can also be borrowed in the control of greenhouse gas emissions. This refers to a system whereby the wastes are entirely transported underground. Natural gas can now also be pumped back into oil wells in order to increase pressure and allow for oil to be continually pumped.
The implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act was set to commence in August, 2022. Speedy attention to the tax incentive clauses for investors in gas processing is pivotal. This will support Public-Private Partnerships to provide the infrastructure for efficient evacuation of gas with modern technology.