Nigeria loses not less than two billion dollars (approximately N320 billion) to gas flaring annually, an environmentalist, Nnimmo Bassey, has said.
Bassey, a delegate at the ongoing National Conference and member of the Committee on Environment, said yesterday in Abuja that the loss of such huge revenue to the activities of oil companies, constituted an economic crime.
The confab delegate also explained that the flared gas also had a negative impact on the health of people in the area.
According to him, such health hazards pose environmental challenges to the people and can lead to terminal diseases.
He said: “Nigeria wastes gas worth about two billion dollars every year; that is criminal.
“This gas that is being flared in the oil fields equally impacts human health as it causes acid rain, cancer, breathing difficulties, skin and other diseases such as bronchitis and asthma and acid rain.
“Communities have experienced a drop in agricultural yields when you get nearer to gas flaring fields.
“You have to be as far away as at least one km to expect to have fair yields from your crop because some of this gas is being flared in communities.”
The delegate also said that the committee had made far-reaching recommendations aimed at protecting Nigeria’s environment from danger.
He said that the conference adopted most of the recommendations of the environment committee, which included outlawing gas flaring.
“I believe that the recommendations made by the environment committee all have far-reaching implications.
“For example, the fact that gas flaring should be outlawed and criminalised. It has been outlawed since 1984, but there has been an opening for oil companies to continue to flare and pay fines.
“We recommended a situation where there will not be an option of fine on gas flaring, but brand the activity as criminal.
“We cannot kill our people on the altar of cash; we need to have an environment where people will survive,” he said.
Bassey also said that conference adopted the committee’s recommendation to strengthen the Act establishing the Nigerian Environmental Standards Regulation and Enforcement Agency (NESREA).
He observed that the NESREA Act did not empower it to oversee and regulate the petroleum sector, a situation that had led to the pollution of the environment by the petroleum industry.
“Right now, we have agencies like NESREA which has the mandate to regulate the entire environment sector and oversight over the environment except the oil and gas sector.
“To add insult to injury, there sits on the board of NESREA the oil and gas industry people.
“How could you have oil and gas sector, the most polluting sector in the Nigerian environment not being regulated by the major regulatory agency and you then have same pollutants seating on the board of that agency?
“So, the committee recommended that that gap should be closed; that NESREA should be empowered to oversee and regulate the entire Nigerian environment, including the oil and gas sector.
“The conference acts in the interest of Nigerians because the participants live within the environment and the more environmental regulations we have, the better for everybody in the country.”