Hardly will you arrive in Port Harcourt without observing the dark nature of the state, literally. Black soot greets you into the oil rich Port Harcourt City.
Interestingly, much has been said about this phenomenon as it has become part of the fabric of the entire citizenry of the country’s treasure base state in recent years.
There have been a lot of agitation via various publications in the national dailies and social media trends but it appears all of these have fallen on deaf ears. What is the way forward?
Environmentalists call it air pollution, they say it as a result of the introduction of chemicals, particulates, biological materials or other harmful materials into the atmosphere, possibly causing disease and death to humans, damage to other living organisms such as food crop, or the natural or built environment.
Air pollution is mostly man-initiated (anthropogenic), other times, some inevitable natural occurrences (biological) such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions which emit huge and dangerous dusts and gases into the atmosphere also cause this pollution.
What is black soot?
They are black substance formed by combustion or separated from fuel during combustion, rising in fine particles, and hugging the sides of the chimney or pipe.
Put differently, it is the fine black particles which contain carbon produced by the incomplete breakdown of coal, oil, gas, wood or other fuel.
Why is it so much in Port Harcourt?
There is a reason why the state is referred to as the nation’s treasure base and it is because crude oil was first discovered in commercial quantities here and remains the nation’s most viable source of revenue.
This naturally, has many effects, such as the importing of heavy machinery which has added to the pressure on the environment as well.
Succinctly distilled, the causes include;
1. Gas flaring and Oil Exploration.
Gas flaring is the burning of natural gas that is associated with crude oil when it is pumped up from the ground.
In petroleum-producing areas where insufficient investment was made in infrastructure to utilize natural gas, flaring is employed to dispose of this associated gas.
Also chemical factories, oil refineries, oil wells, rigs and landfills, gaseous waste products and sometimes even non-waste gases produced are routed to an elevated vertical chimney called a gas flare and burnt off at its tip.
Waste gases are subjected to such a process either because the gases are waste or it is difficult to store and transport them.
Non-waste gases are burnt off to protect the processing equipment when unexpected high pressure develops within them.
Gas flaring in oil rigs and wells contribute significantly to greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
Nigeria flares 17.3billion cubits fit of natural gas per year in conjunction with the exploration of crude oil in the entire Niger delta.
The high level of gas flaring is equal to approximately one quarter of the current power consumption of the African continent!
Even though we have grown to be fairly dependent on oil and it has become the center of current industrial development and economics activities, we rarely consider how oil exploration and exploitation processes create environmental, health and social challenges in local communities near oil producing fields.
Biomass in the form of firewood, coal, bamboo trunks and dead leaves are commonly used sources of cooking fuel in some regions.
Of all these, the most frequently used is firewood. The combustion of firewood releases gaseous pollutants from cooking emission that comprise carbon-monoxide (CO), carbon-dioxide (CO2), sulphur-dioxide, (SO2), nitrogen-dioxide (NO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), Diesel exhaust particulate (DEP) and particulate matter.
The particulate matter is in the form of carbon, black soot and ash which are the major component of smoke.
3. Illegal oil Bunkering activities.
Oil bunkering in itself is not prohibited, it however, is the way the traders deal with it that really determines whether or not it can cause dangers to the populace, especially in Nigeria, where “bunkering” also means the clandestine siphoning off or diverting of oil from pipelines and storage facilities.
Such is often processed crudely, causing both accidents and pollution.
4. Burning Of Scrap Copper and Tires.
The disposal of refuse, including scrap copper and tires is a major environmental problem.
The refuse is usually from multiple sources including domestic, municipal, agricultural and industrial sources.
One of the environmentally unfriendly methods of managing the waste is by open burning either on nearby lands or open dumps within residential areas.
The composition of the refuse, age of the dump and the intensity of the flame usually determines the nature of the air pollutants.
Often times, the air within refuse burning sites is composed of VOCs, COs, SOs, NOs, Total Hydrocarbons (THCs), as well as various classes of toxic hazardous compounds and metal like mercury and lead.
5. Industrial Emissions
Industrialized urban areas in Nigeria include Lagos and the Niger Delta area including Port Harcourt.
In these region, oil and non-oil related industries including refineries, petro-chemical, liquefied natural gas, chemical fertilizer, aluminum, paper, cement, flour, wood, battery and textile industries add to the burden of gaseous and particulate pollutants in the air.
Also, lack of power supply has led to the use of generators and it has become a thing of affluence to be able to produce more smoke in Port Harcourt as locales just simply call the bluff of the power distribution company and make power generators their major source of power.
It is desirable that the power sector of the country is revamped, but in the meantime, are we going to keep killing ourselves and generations yet unborn in installments?
The Adverse Effects of the Black Soot on the Health of Persons in the State?
A larger percentage of Nigerians risk contacting chronic respiratory diseases like lung cancer, asthma, heart disease and stroke and ultimately, premature death due to incessant exposure to toxic emissions.
The Regulatory Framework
National Environmental Standards Regulation Enforcement Agency NESREA Act 2007
The regulatory provisions prescribe minimum standards and permissible level of gaseous emissions to be discharged into the environment as well as penalize violation of the regulation.
The body vested with this responsibility is the NESREA.
By virtue of Section 8 NESREA Act 2007 the body has the power to submit for the Minister of Environment, proposals for the evolution and review of existing guidelines, regulations and standards on environment amongst other duties.
By virtue of section 247 Criminal Code Act it is an offence to pollute the atmosphere in such a way as to make it noxious to the health of persons in general dwelling or carrying on business in the neighborhood.
Any person found guilty shall on conviction be liable to the criminal penalties imposed by the Act.
The provisions of Section 1 of the Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provisions etc.) Act.
The next poser is how does one get the corporate bodies that are most times found erring to face criminal charges and stand trial?
Nuisance Relating to Air Quality
The following matters may constitute a statutory nuisance if they are either prejudicial to health or a nuisance:
any premises in such a state so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance; smoke, fumes or gas emitted from premises so as to be adverse to health or a nuisance.
Any dust, steam or other effluvia arising on industrial, trade or business premises.
Emission Control Technology
From 1995, Industries were required to meet the compliance schedule drawn up in 1994 which was that industries were to install pollution abatement facilities or ace the administrative sanctions and criminal charges in appropriate situations.
As regards motor vehicles, effective from 1st August 2002, second hand vehicles more than five years were prohibited from being imported into the country.
This was aimed at partly reducing the level of emission associated with automobiles.
Monitoring and Assessment of Air Pollution Effects
The Environmental Impact Assessment Act Cap E12 LFN 2004 (EIA) requires that EIA must be conducted before any public or private project hits the ground running.
International Protection of Air against Pollution
Efforts at minimizing the incidence of atmospheric pollution at the international level began in 1979 following the conclusion of the 1979 Convention on Long Ranger Trans-Boundary Air pollution.
The treaty was the first environmental treaty signed by the East and West.
The objective of the convention is “to protect man and his environment against air pollution and to endeavor to limit as far as possible, gradually reduce, and prevent air pollution, including long range trans-boundary air pollution”.
Other relevant statutory instruments of environmental policy relating to air pollution in Nigeria include:
- Associated Gas Re-injection Act Cap A25 LFN 2004
- Oil Pipeline Act Cap O7 LFN 2004
- National Health Act 2014
- Effluent Limitations Regulations
- Environmental Guidelines And Standards For The Petroleum Industry In Nigeria (EGASPIN) Revised Edition 2002
- Industrial Pollution Abatement Regulations 1992
- Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry by the Department of Petroleum Resources. (DPR)
- Guidelines For Bunkering Operations in Nigeria By The Department Of Petroleum Resources 2014
The Big Environmental Challenge
There is definitely no doubt that the onus has left the legislators and has glided gradually towards the executive.
Despite the many regulations put in place there is still no headway made and many lawsuits still abound in our courts and innumerable persons still die prematurely from inhaling noxious emissions from stationary and mobile sources of air pollution.
NESREA is charged with the responsibility of enforcing all environmental laws, guidelines, policies, standards and regulations in Nigeria.
It was also mandated to enforce compliance with provisions of international agreements, protocols, conventions and treaties on the environment.
Regrettably, the agency has shunned the execution of its mandate despite its budgetary allocations and support from foreign organizations.
The crux of the challenge is largely on unenforceability.
What is The Way Forward?
Research is ongoing in other more developed climes to create more stringent emission legislation that will drive the emission control technologies market.
This research, “Emission Control Technologies in Automotive & Transportation (TechVision)”, provides an overview of types of emission control technologies, its advantages, limitations and applications amongst light-duty diesel and gasoline engines and heavy-duty diesel engines.
The study identifies 8 emission control technologies that can reduce the release of emission particles by about 99%, such as particulate filters, closed crankcase ventilation, oxidation catalyst, selective catalytic reduction, exhaust gas recirculation and other sustainable emission control methods.
At a time like this when urbanization increases the congestion of vehicles on the roads, which in turn increases the pressure on the environment, in particular to air pollution, necessitates the use of environmentally friendly vehicles in cities.
Emissions Control Technologies (ECTs) can enable to reduce harmful emissions from vehicular exhaust gases, improve air quality and promote carbon neutral cities.
ECTs are considered laudable route to solve the issues like air pollutions, greenhouse effect, acid rain, global warming and smog and the earlier such innovations are embraced in our country, the better.
More than ever before more mechanism must be put up by the government, her agencies and the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to ensure the sensitization of the people on eco-friendly ways of living.
The social media trends must also continue, and not just for a short while but they must be strong, very loud and consistent.
The Legislators Can Do More.
The legislators must likewise ensure that they do more with regards to their oversight function to ensure that a mess is not made of the whole process because what then is the point of going through the process if at the end of the day there is no implementation of these laws, policies and regulations.
The Executive Must Do More.
Sob stories have become the order of the day where it concerns NESREA and other related agencies, this must stop and concrete plans must be put in place for them to adequately combat the threat to lives which air pollution poses.
In closing, it is desirable that the economic sector of the country is revamped and things get moving, but are we supposed to sacrifice this at the expense of our health and future, having climate change and all it ills at the back of our minds?
Are we going to keep killing ourselves and generations yet unborn in installments?
Dami Obaro is a graduate of the University of Ibadan. He is young lawyer passionate about making the law work in our society with particular interest in Environmental law practice, Oil and Gas law practice , Property law and Corporate and Investments law practice in general. Dami is an avid reader and researcher.