Nigeria is a study in contradiction. It has the largest proven gas reserve in Africa yet faces a significant challenge in providing access to gas for a majority of its citizens and businesses. On top of this, it occupies an unenviable position as one of the top seven gas-flaring countries in the world, according to the World Bank. The tale would be unbelievable if it was fiction.
Sadly, the reality is grim. Oil-producing companies burn off millions of cubic litres of natural gas during oil production. They use a fancy term, gas flaring, to describe it. It doesn’t however take remove from the fact that the action, gas flaring, is a glaring waste of a wasting resource. It also impacts negatively on the environment, human health and the cost of gas. It needs to be stopped.
Over the last couple of years, governments have sought to curtail incidents of gas flaring, increase the use of gas and boost revenue from it, all with varying degrees of success.
To highlight the commitment of the federal government to boost the domestic use of gas among Nigerians as the primary energy source President Muhammadu Buhari declared the ‘Decade of Gas’ (January 1, 2021, to 2030). An integral part of the process is the development of gas infrastructure, with the construction of the 614km Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano gas pipeline the number one starting point.
The goal is simple, to increase the domestic utilisation of LPG and CNG, commercialise gas flares, develop industrial gas markets and increase gas-to-power. Related policies which are already in the works include the National Gas Expansion Programme and the Autogas policy.
Experts argue, however, that despite the government’s best efforts to increase the distribution of liquified petroleum gas (LPG), also known as cooking gas, a large number of Nigerians still rely on firewood and charcoal for cooking with the attendant damage to the environment and impact on the climate.
Now one of the main reasons for this is the lack of infrastructure and distribution networks for LPG. Many areas in the country do not have access to gas pipelines, making it difficult for residents to obtain cooking gas. We’ll require a study to explore the risk associated with the current gas tank retail marketing method. Additionally, the cost of LPG is prohibitively high for low-income households, who make up the bulk of the population. Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show how deep the poverty is – 63 per cent of persons living in Nigeria (133 million people) are multidimensionally poor. It’s a grim picture.
GlobalData reports that by flaring, rather than utilising gas for power generation or other domestic needs, Nigeria and other nations involved in such acts, could lose up to $82 billion a year globally. Other countries in this unholy group include Algeria, Angola, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia, the US and Venezuela. They accounted for over 87 per cent of all flared gas in 2020.
Independent sources reveal that Nigeria flared an average of 11.1m3/bbl of gas in 2021. The issue here is that the Nigeria Gas Flare Commercialisation Programme (NGFCP), which seeks to curb the act, has loopholes along with low and weakly enforced penalties. It needs to be tightened and strengthened to make it more effective.
Nigeria had 208.62 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of gas reserve as of January 2022, according to the Commission Chief Executive (CCE) of the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), Gbenga Komolafe, an engineer. However, the development of gas, especially for domestic use, is still relatively low.
The price is still in the skies for many potential users. Right now, the concern is that with the rising cost of cooking gas, the domestic utilisation of LPG may decline. It remains to be seen how this will impact the achievement of the ‘Decade of Gas’ objectives.
There are several steps that the government can take to increase access to cooking gas for Nigerians. As a concerned citizen and cooking gas user, here are my thoughts on five things that the government can do to improve access to natural gas:
Firstly, the government must invest in building pipelines and distribution networks to reach residential and business areas and improve access to LPG.
Secondly, while the country has significant natural gas reserves a lack of investment in the sector has led to low production of LPG. It is time for the government to encourage investment in the sector to increase domestic production and thus curb the importation of LPG.
In addition, to demonstrate the resolve to improve the use of gas among citizens, the government can look at providing subsidies for LPG to make it more affordable for low-income households. This will make it more accessible to those who currently are unable to afford it.
Furthermore, since reports indicate that Nigerians are unaware of the benefits of using LPG as a cooking fuel, the government can launch a campaign to educate citizens on the benefits of LPG and how to safely use it.
Finally, the government must create an enabling environment to encourage private sector participation and investment in the LPG industry. This will increase the availability of LPG and possibly help drive down prices.
With the implementation of these measures, Nigeria can truly increase access to cooking gas for a majority of its citizens and reduce the country’s dependence on firewood and charcoal. This will not only improve the quality of life for citizens, but it will also help the environment by reducing deforestation and air pollution caused by the burning of firewood.
Eromosele, a Corporate Communication professional and public affairs analyst lives in Lagos.