Nigeria has abundant reserves of associated and non-associated gas estimated in excess of 187 trillion (standard) cubic feet (Tcf). Though Nigeria is ranked 7th in terms of proven natural gas reserves in the world, geological experts hold the view that more gas can still be found; potentially up to 600Tcf.
According to David Ige, group managing director, gas and power, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), “Many basins remain untapped and gas discoveries to date are as a result of exploitation of oil and there is significant potential for reserves growth with focused gas exploration.” This can be realisable if oil and gas companies deliberately explore for gas as against finding gas while in search for oil. To facilitate gas gathering, processing and utilisation will require favourable development-oriented market conditions and policy framework for the gas sector.
The role and importance of natural gas to Nigeria’s economic and social development cannot be over-emphasised. Gas gathering and utilisation are necessary to curtail environmental challenges associated with gas flares and the use of other traditional fossil fuels. It is also relevant for the expansion of the revenue base of the economy in light of dwindling oil prices. For the power sector, over 70 percent of the power-generating plants across Nigeria depend on gas to function and electricity is so vital for national development. More than 90 million people (55 percent of the population) do not have access to grid electricity. Nigeria targets to make reliable electricity available to 75 percent of the population by 2020 and 100 percent of the population by 2030.
Considering the heavy investments in gas-fired generating plants, the demand for gas to produce electricity will therefore increase over the years. The implication is that, to ensure improved power generation and access to sustainable electricity in Nigeria, the gas industry policy and framework must be robust to respond to domestic and international demand for Nigeria’s gas.
Evidently, current investments in electricity generation are skewed in favour of gas-fired plants and this seems like putting all eggs in one basket in view of the renewable energy potentials available for harnessing in Nigeria. It is imperative to note that, at the current rate of harnessing 5bn scf a day, our 187 trillion scf will last for 102 years. But the rate of harnessing will increase as the implementation of the Nigerian Gas Master Plan (NGMP) is accelerated. Thus, at 15bscf a day, which is triple of the current harnessing capacity, (the rate expected in NGMP), the reserves will last for 34 years.
On the other hand, the renewable energy potentials of Nigeria are intimidating. According to the Energy Commission of Nigeria, large hydro-power can generate 11,250MW and the solar radiation is 3.5-7kmh/m2/day and solar sources can provide up to 30,000MW of electricity. Wind coverage at 10 metres height is 2-4m2 annually. Nigeria also produces a lot of animal waste – 61 million tonnes per year and crop residue of 83 million tonnes per year which can be used for energy generation. Investment in renewable energy is low and renewables contribute less than 5 percent to the overall energy mix in Nigeria.
Currently, the Nigerian gas-to-electricity project has over 1,000km of pipelines. For an electricity revolution based mainly on gas, Nigeria will need not less than 10,000km of gas pipeline infrastructure as well as adequate security measures to curb the menace of gas pipeline vandalism. The questions arising from the gas-to-power proposal and the Nigerian Gas Master Plan include the following: Who will be investing all the needed finances? Is the domestic gas price attractive to encourage investors to invest in gas exploration and pipeline expansion? Will the extant enabling policies ensure returns on investment? How sustainable are the available gas reserves to meet the need of the future generation? If realisable, will the expansion of the gas pipelines infrastructure guarantee sustainable and accessible power for all Nigerians especially those in off-grid communities?
Providing answers to the above posers remains one of the tasks for managers of the oil and gas sector of our economy as well as the overall leadership of the country. Nigeria needs to take beautiful ideas such as the Gas Master Plan out of the drawing board and make them practical realities that positively impact on the lives of the people. This should be a priority for the new federal government elected on the mantra of change.