Why is gas problematic for Nigeria and the Niger Delta?
The Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) plans to expand gas production to serve growing international and domestic demand. However, this is a risky path for both the national economy, and local communities where gas will be produced. Our research looked at the international, national, and local dynamics associated with gas production, and highlights the current challenges and future risks that need urgent attention from those driving production and demand.
What is happening?
The European Union and others have been scrambling for alternatives to Russian gas since the war in Ukraine started. African gas producers, including Nigeria, are planning to rapidly scale up production to meet this demand. At the same time, Nigeria plans to increase supplies to the domestic market to help transition from harmful household energy sources such as wood and kerosene, and increase national power generation capacity.
Partial increases to Nigeria’s gas capacity are expected over the next few years, with several projects planned or already in motion. But further expansion will require billions of dollars of investment, and could take decades to come online, by which point global demand will be in decline, as it is predicted to peak by 2040, and possibly earlier.
What does SDN’s research show?
Our research sought to document the current state of the gas industry’s infrastructure, and impact on host communities, to highlight risks of further expansion. It is based on a rapid research assignment in communities surrounding a large gas processing facility that has been operated in Rivers State since 1985.
The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) recorded nearly 40 gas leaks within a 10-kilometre radius of the facility within the past five years. The oil and gas company claimed that any leaks are reported to NOSDRA for swift investigation alongside community representatives. Yet the community claim that they rarely participated in the inspection visits, and that the regulators responded too slowly, if at all.
Our research documented visible gas leaks at several points on pipelines. When we returned six months later, the leaks were still there, or had been shoddily patched up. There was also an explosion at the gas facility, which is reportedly common. Local accounts – including an interview with a staff member of the company – suggest a failure to implement maintenance and safety standards.
Most worryingly, our research contains reports of negative health and economic impacts for communities living near gas infrastructure. Toxic waste and flaring have reportedly led to increased rates of cancers and respiratory illnesses. While acid rain and waterway pollution has reduced the productivity of land and waterways for farmers and fisherfolk.
Why is this important?
At the local level, with expansion, host communities are likely to experience more negative impacts due to exposure to gas and other hazardous wastes, compounding decades of oil pollution. Under the current system of weak enforcement of Federal regulations for pollution and host community development, companies will continue to operate without due care.
At the national level, expansion could still benefit Nigeria, as it is seeking to increase domestic gas consumption as part of development targets and as a transition fuel. But it risks redirecting resources away from more sustainable infrastructure, delaying the clean energy transition, and deepening dependence on fossil fuels, which could result in stranded assets and debt that will be difficult to repay as demand and prices fluctuate.
What needs to be done?
The FGN should properly assess the risks involved with gas expansion, and create a strategy to minimise the impacts, maximise the benefits, phase out oil and gas assets, and plan for a post-oil and -gas future.
The FGN should also take immediate action to study the current exposure levels to toxins in host communities, then design and implement remediation measures. Going forwards, the FGN needs to improve the enforcement of environmental regulations to hold all projects to a higher standard.
International countries should clarify how long they will need Nigeria’s gas when they are discussing supply agreements, since they have plans in place to end their consumption of fossil fuels in the near future.
The oil and gas companies should improve the standard of their facilities, respond to leaks more quickly and effectively, initiate decommissioning of abandoned assets, and work more closely with host communities to monitor assets and support social and economic development.