Niger Delta Gas Flaring Visible from Space at Night

Most of Africa is often dark at night

Nighttime photo of Africa from space

Electric power generation and use are well-known indices for ascertaining the level of industrial activity of any part of the globe. Industrialized economies of the world are powered with electricity – a whole lot of it. The earth’s leading industrialized nations are usually lit up at night. Even from space at night, most of Europe, North America and parts of Asia stand out and are seen with the naked eye because of the high luminosity of these parts of the world. In Africa, some parts of the so-called “dark” continent also are lit up and are clearly visible from space with the naked eye. The above map recorded from space shows clusters of intense light sources emanating from the Nile Delta in Egypt, coastal areas of North Africa, South Africa and of course, the Niger Delta of Nigeria.

The light sources that illuminate the night sky over South Africa, Nile Delta and North African coastline (in Tunisia and Algeria) come from electricity used in peoples’ homes and in lighting street lamps. The light sources which illuminate the night sky over the Niger Delta and continuous oilfields in the continental shelf of Nigeria’s Atlantic shoreline come from nonstop gas flaring that is associated with thousands of well heads that litter the area. All large crude oil deposits are usually associated with pockets of natural gas. The operational standard implemented by oil companies worldwide is to first depressurize the oil wells by letting out and meticulously collecting all the natural gas associated with oil deposits linked to the well heads. In most cases, the collected natural gas is cleaned up and piped to consumers where it can be used as fuel. The natural gas can also be liquefied in special plants from where  liquid gas can then be loaded in refrigerated ships for export overseas.

The multinational oil companies (MOIs) responsible for exploitation of Nigeria’s oil deposits initially had little or no interest, whatsoever, in investing any effort and resources to harness and properly manage huge quantities of natural gas associated with the country’s crude oil deposits. The low-hanging fruit has always been the crude oil which is relatively much easier to extract, transport through pipelines and ship to faraway overseas markets than the natural gas that is also often associated with the liquid black gold. Due to the laxity of regulatory oversight by managers of Nigeria’s oil industry, MOIs opt to take the line of least resistance in order to get the crude oil out of the ground as quickly and cheaply as possible. The natural gas escaping together with the crude oil is collected through a specialized burner where it is flared while the associated crude oil is retrieved through a different conduit and piped away from the oilfields to the seaport for immediate export.

Dangers Associated with Gas Flaring

Fish killed in waterways poisoned by acid rain that falls upstrem

Fish killed in waterways poisoned by acid rain that falls upstream

Natural gas is quite flammable and most of the accidental explosions that occur in oilfields are related to mishaps associated with improper disposition of this valuable energy fuel. Although natural gas is mostly made up of methane, there are other toxic substances that are mixed with it in oil wells. Toxic materials like sulfur, lead, etc admixed with natural gas as it escapes from well heads are flared together in same burner. Toxic combination of burnt gases are immediately discharged into the air right there in the oilfield. The harmful byproducts from gas flaring such as sulfur dioxide, lead oxide etc, rise into the atmosphere, mix with the rain-bearing clouds and end up falling with raindrops over whichever terrain the winds blow the poisonous mixture. Dissolving large quantities of sulfur dioxide with moisture in the air yields dilute sulfuric acid which is the same chemical that is used in making auto batteries. Acid rain destroys many life forms on immediate contact. Leaves of trees exposed to acid rain soon lose their green color and fall off; the trees cannot make it without their leaves. Acid rainfall discharges into stream, creeks, lakes and other waterways in the watershed and continues to wreak havoc until it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

Even more dangerous is the scenario where the flared gas byproducts find their way into the lungs of local inhabitants who dwell within the oilfields. The toxic mix is highly irritable and can become an imminent danger to individuals with asthma and other lung diseases. Lining of eyeballs and even one’s skin are not spared after exposure to the caustic mixture spewed from giant gas burners that litter the oilfields of the Lower Niger. Individuals who are chronically exposed to these toxic agents can develop chronic obstructive lung disease, blindness, chronic skin diseases and many types of cancers.

So, the glitter which emanates from the ubiquitous light sources that can be seen from space throughout the Niger Delta and oilfields of the Lower Niger is a harbinger of death from hell. Take another close look at the photo of Africa taken at night from space. The glitter that one sees over the Nile Delta, Southern Africa and Mediterranean coastline portends economic prosperity for the lucky Africans inhabiting those parts of the continent. If you would also opt to glance at the glitter over Southern Nigeria, specifically the oilfields of the Lower Niger, just tell yourself that you are indeed looking at the gate of hell on earth from a comfortable distance.