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What is Nigeria doing about methane emissions?

Greg Odogwu

Methane is an odourless, colourless, flammable gas. It is used primarily as fuel to make heat and light; and also used to manufacture organic chemicals. It can be formed by the decay of natural materials and is common in landfills, marshes, septic systems and sewers. For easy understanding, methane is that warm gas that comes out of a pit toilet or a compressed dustbin. Methane can also be found in coal gas. Pockets of methane exist naturally underground. In homes, methane may be used to fuel a water heater, stove, and clothes dryer. That is why, for instance, the Lagos State government is working on capturing and utilising methane from its dumpsites and landfills.

Methane evaporates quickly. Therefore, most of the methane that ends up in lakes, streams, or soil is eventually released into the air. It is one of the gases that cause global warming and climate change, which are known as greenhouse gases. However, methane remains in the atmosphere for approximately 10 years, as opposed to hundreds of years for carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas). This is why cutting down on methane emission has a more immediate impact on global warming.

Recently, National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s scientists discovered over 50 methane-emitting hotspots around the globe using a technique developed to research how dust affects climate. Created in 1958, NASA is a United States government agency responsible for science and technology related to air and space. It says this discovery could aid in the fight against the potent greenhouse gas as with knowledge of the locations of big emitters, operators of facilities, equipment, and infrastructure giving off the gas can quickly act to limit emissions.

According to data gathered by NASA’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation, which was installed on the International Space Station in July last year, the science team has found more than 50 “super-emitters” across Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Southwestern United States. The agency said super-emitters are facilities, equipment and other infrastructure, typically in the fossil-fuel, waste, or agriculture sectors, that emit methane at high rates. An example is a collection of 12 plumes from Turkmenistan’s oil and gas infrastructure, some of which reached lengths of 32 kilometres. Scientists estimate the Turkmenistan plumes collectively emit methane at a rate of 50,400kg per hour, matching the peak flow from the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas field rupture near Los Angeles, which ranks as one of the greatest accidental methane leaks in US history.

A waste-processing facility in Iran and an oilfield in New Mexico were two further significant emitters, each of which released approximately 29,000kg of methane per hour. The length of the methane plume south of the Iranian capital city Tehran was at least 4.8 kilometres. Some of the methane plumes that EMIT discovered are among the largest ever seen from space or previously known to scientists. Researchers hope that more such hotspots will be discovered in coming times.

In as much as no Nigerian site was spotted by the EMIT as a super-emitter, we should still be concerned because Nigeria is a major fossil fuel producer. Methane is a hydrocarbon that is a primary compound of natural gas – emitted in oil and natural gas systems, coal mining, agricultural activities and combustion. It is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, accounting for about 20 per cent of global emissions. The oil and gas sector is not only a major contributor; it is one of the most fertile sectors for action.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, China, the United States, Russia, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria and Mexico are estimated to be responsible for nearly half of all anthropogenic methane emissions. The major methane emission sources for these countries vary. For example, a key source of methane emissions in China is coal production, whereas Russia emits most of its methane from natural gas and oil systems. The largest sources of methane emissions from human activities in the US are oil and gas systems, livestock enteric fermentation, and landfills.

For Nigeria, the largest sources of methane emissions are biogas (landfills, sewage), coal mines, oil and gas, agriculture and enteric fermentation. According to the Clean Air Task Force, Nigeria has taken a global leadership role in implementing policies to tackle polluting emissions from the oil and gas sector – including methane emissions. Nigeria is a member of the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership and also an endorser of the Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 Initiative led by the World Bank. However, as much as Nigeria has cut natural gas flaring by roughly 70 per cent since 2000, the country still flared 7.2 billion cubic meters of gas in 2020, making it the 7th largest flarer in the world.

Thankfully, Nigeria has now started concentrating more efforts on methane pollution. In 2019, the country published its National Action Plan to reduce short-lived climate pollutants and joined the Global Methane Alliance, pledging to absolute methane reduction targets of at least 45 per cent by 2025 and 60 – 75 per cent by 2030. Accordingly, it included specific methane targets in Nigeria’s 2021 update of its Nationally Determined Contribution, our commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015.

There are efforts made in the US to capture and use methane emissions. According to the US EPA, American industries – along with state and local governments – collaborate with the US EPA to implement several voluntary programs that promote profitable opportunities for reducing emissions of methane. These programmes are designed to overcome a wide range of informational, technical, and institutional barriers to reducing methane emissions, while creating profitable activities for the coal, natural gas, petroleum, landfill, and agricultural industries.

Many of the available methane emission reduction opportunities involve the recovery of methane emissions and use of the methane as fuel for electricity generation, on-site uses, or off-site sales of methane. For example, in the case of coal mining, methane is removed from underground mines either in advance of mining, during mining activities, or after mining has occurred to reduce explosion hazards. Instead of releasing this methane to the atmosphere, profitable uses for the methane can be identified and implemented. Some of these options include natural gas pipeline injection, power production, co-firing in boilers, district heating, coal drying, and vehicle fuel.

No doubt, Nigeria is a global leader in curbing methane. In a recent article by Ibrahim Muhammad, Deputy Manager of Laboratory Services at the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, entitled “Nigeria Cements Methane Guidelines, and its Role as an African Climate and Clean Air Leader,” published by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (ccacoalition.org), it is revealed that Nigeria is the first country in Africa to regulate methane emissions in the energy sector.

“The country’s new Methane Guidelines mandate that companies take swift and effective action in the industry, first by implementing leak detection and repair measures in oil and gas infrastructure. Companies must also start utilising high destruction efficiency flares to reduce the methane that is vented or leaked. Lastly, companies must implement controls on venting devices, or replace them with zero emissions technology.”

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