Gas is burnt off, or 'flared', as part of the oil production process. Gas has been flared in Nigeria since the 1950s, releasing carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere. It is a continuing source of environmental and health concerns in the Niger Delta, despite efforts to reduce it.
When crude oil is extracted from onshore and offshore oil wells, it brings raw natural gas with it to the surface. If it is not possible to use it at source or transport it elsewhere, it is flared as a waste product. This also helps prevent accidents.
Flared gas could be harnessed to provide power and electricity, which Nigeria faces an acute shortage of. This could be done at a local scale, or by feeding into Nigeria’s national grid. However, this is in a bad state of repair, and a combination of infrastructure, regulation and investment is required to encourage gas-to-power initiatives that could help address Nigeria's power challenges.
Gas flaring emits hazardous pollutants. These include oxides of Nitrogen, Carbon and Sulphur, particulate matter, hydrocarbons and ash, photochemical oxidants, and hydrogen sulphide.
These pollutants are associated with a variety of adverse health impacts, including cancer, neurological, reproductive and developmental effects. Deformities in children, lung damage and skin problems have also been reported.
The extraction of oil in Nigeria since the 1950s has released vast quantities of liquid pollutants into the Niger Delta, damaging the region's ecosystem.
Gas flares have been linked to acidification of rain and waterways through the emissions of large quantities of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into local areas which combine with atmospheric moisture to form sulphuric acid and nitric acid.
Acidification of waterways and rainfall damages vegetation, insect and animal life.
Some birds and many insects are drawn to bright lights at night and studies have show that gas flares can attract birds and insects to their deaths in large numbers.
Various legislative measures to curb gas flaring in Nigeria have been in place since 1969.
Since 1984 it has been illegal to flare gas in Nigeria without the written permission of the Minister of Petroleum Resources.
The current penalties for gas flaring in Nigeria officially stand at $2 per 1000 standard cubic feet.
A flagship report by the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force in 2012 found that oil companies often do not comply in paying fines and when they do are still paying the old penalty of N10 per 1000 standard cubic feet flared.
The Task Force also found out that the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, is unable to independently track and measure gas volumes produced and flared and depends largely on information provided by the operators.
The report stated that in November 2012 no penalties for gas flaring had been paid for that year.