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An estimated 2 billion cubic feet of gas is flared daily in Nigeria. This puts Nigeria among the world’s largest sources of carbon emissions. The enigma of gas flaring in Nigeria dates back to the 1960s. Some of the factors responsible for flaring are: poor re-injection facilities on ground, and inability to store excess gas (which is useful for community projects). Gas flaring is dangerous in any environment. It is harmful to health, livelihood, the adjacent vegetation and is a major contributing factor to the global warming crises.
The Niger Delta region serves as the main hub for oil and gas production in Nigeria. It is located in the southern part of Nigeria. I was privileged to do my undergraduate industrial training (internship) with an indigenous oil servicing company in Nigeria for 6 months in 2011. The company is a sub-contractor to a major oil and gas company. My field/work location was a gas plant in the Niger Delta. The gas plant processes gas, generates electricity for its operation, and the surrounding community.
I went to work on a Monday morning, and one of my superiors told me that there was a major electrical fault in the gas plant the previous weekend. All the generators, gas turbines, gas compressors, and utilities (e.g. AC electric motors) in the gas plant tripped off as a result of the fault. There was a general power failure in the gas plant and the surrounding environment. He told me that during the pandemonium, there was a sudden loud noise (a bang) in the gas plant, the flame from the flare stacks increased (Flare Stack: - an elevated vertical conveyance used to eliminate waste gas not feasible for use or transport. The gas is burned into the atmosphere as it leaves the flare stack.), and the temperature of the gas plant environment became high. He explained further that at the moment of the incidence, all the generators, gas turbines, gas compressors, and utilities had shut down, and so the gas for their operation had to be flared, along with excess gas being flared due to general over-pressure. Prior to this incidence, excess gas was flared everyday in the gas plant through more than three flare stacks.
As an electrical and electronics engineering student, I never understood what gas flaring meant until I witnessed it during my industrial training. This experience has raised my awareness of gas flaring in Nigeria and has given me a better understanding.
Electricity is paramount to human and economic development. It is rather unfortunate that all my life, I have been a victim of unstable power supply at home, and in school. Nigeria has an installed generating capacity of about 5,900 megawatts of electricity but 51 years after independence, we struggle to generate between 4000-4500 megawatts for a population above 150 million while our African counterpart South Africa, generates more than 40,000 megawatts for a population less than 50 million.
Natural gas is a source of energy and can be used for power generation. This is why I am surprised at the continued gas flaring in Nigeria, when the gas could be, or should have been over the years, refined and conveyed into more power generation stations, in addition to the existing ones thereby helping to reduce the flaring, carbon dioxide emissions and generate more power for the growing population.
If at all gas flaring needs to be done, it should be done in a logical and economical way that will have an overall positive impact. A flare stack in a gas plant or power generation facility can be designed or built in such a way that, the flame from the flare will serve as a direct source of heat to a boiler containing water, which will release high pressure steam from the boiler into a steam turbine. The steam turbine could be used to generate electricity for the facility or a host community. Hence, natural gas can be used judiciously in a basic fossil fuel power system e.g. thermal power plants or gas-fired power plants.
In addition to making the flame from the gas flare a useful resource, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology should be applied to stationary large single-source emitters of carbon dioxide such as gas-fired power plants. This technology will help capture, compress, and store carbon dioxide in underground reservoirs. This will help keep the environment clean and green. The environment is our future and we must protect it.
Currently, oil and gas companies in Nigeria, are working hard to bring about the drastic reduction of gas flaring in the country. At the moment, a gas-to-liquid plant which will refine, and ensure proper utilization of natural gas is more than 70 percent complete, and will start operation in 2013. Contracts have been awarded to build Associated Gas Gathering (AGG) infrastructures that will gather associated gas (Associated Gas: - is a form of natural gas, commonly found in petroleum deposits.) currently being flared, and use the gas appropriately in the domestic market.
I commend the present administration for its effort in resolving the electric power crises. Gas-to- power projects are being initiated to tackle present and future demands from power generation plants. Hopefully, an additional 4,770 megawatts of electricity will be generated by December 2013, through new and existing National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) facilities. Also, Independent Power Producers (IPP’s) like Chevron Nigeria Limited, and Shell Petroleum Development Company, will help to generate an additional 6,000 megawatts by 2014.
During my industrial training, an Italian engineer told me that Nigeria is the best country in Africa. It baffled me at first but after cogitating on his words, I gained hope in my country. Nigeria is a blessed country. Although she has had her own fair share of challenges and obstacles, it doesn’t contrast the fact that she is blessed with great resources and a rich heritage. I believe that with proper planning, visionary and action-oriented leadership, Nigeria can rise through the ranks to become one of the 20 largest economies in the world.
As a new generation leader with a positive mindset, I believe that gas flaring should be reduced and greatly minimized in Nigeria if the right principles and practices are adopted.