The lifespan of Nigerians and their automobile will continues to be at risk as the Federal Government mulls another extension of deadline to end dirty fuel importation into Nigeria. ADEOLA YUSUF reports
The Federal Government is planning a shift in deadline set to end importation of sulphur-concentrated premium motor spirit (PMS) also known as dirty fuel, into Nigeria, Africa’s biggest exporter of crude.
This, checks by New Telegraph revealed, came after the acute shortage of fuel, which began to rock Nigeria during Yuletide, which hurt the December 1 target earlier set to end importation of the non-environment-friendly fuel.
Road plied by many
A communiqué jointly issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Economic Communities of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Commission, and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) noted that switching to low-sulphur diesel and use of cleaner vehicles would result in annual savings in health costs of about $6 billion in Sub-Saharan Africa.
At the ministerial meeting on promoting low sulphur fuel held in Abuja in 2016, the governments in the ECOWAS sub-region had agreed that all imported fuel should meet 50ppm max, in line with the African Refineries Association (ARA) -AFRI4 specification by July 1, 2017.
Already, neighbouring countries such as Ghana, which also signified interest in reversing the trend, has since raised its standards and begun importation of cleaner products.
Late 2016, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire agreed to ban importation of Europe’s dirty fuel, limiting sulphur from 3,000 parts per millions to 50ppm.
But almost a year after, Nigeria has continued to import the commodity to the detriment of its consumers, despite the release of new guidelines on petroleum products by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).
Falling short of Standard
The old standard for PMS (petrol), NIS 116: 2006, was, according to Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), replaced by NIS 116: 2017. The former NIS 149: 2006 standard for gas oil (diesel) was replaced by NIS 948: 2017. The standard for Household Kerosene (HHK), NIS 141: 2006, was replaced by NIS 949: 2017.
Tasking stakeholders to update their NIS collection through the organisation’s library and documentation centres in Abuja, Lagos and all nearest state offices, SON maintained that this was to ensure they use the current and correct editions for their products and services.
“There is need to give importers time to strategise on how to adopt the new standards. A lot of things need to change with the new standards, and this cannot be done overnight.“First and foremost, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) is not statutorily required to set standards on petroleum products in Nigeria. That responsibility is the function of SON,” Bola Fashina, head of SON’s public relations, said.
His view was corroborated by DPR head of public affairs, Paul Osu.
“The DPR only enforces standards issued by SON in our regulatory oversight of the oil and gas industry. Consequently, any new operable standard that has been issued by SON for implementation will be adopted by DPR,” Osu said.
Asked what the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is doing to adopt the new standard, Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Ndu Ughamadu, said: “We are working towards meeting the specifications to ensure only quality fuel is produced in the country.”
Nigeria had, together with West African neigbours – Togo, Ivory Coast and Benin Republic – set a target to implement rules banning imports of petrol and other products with high sulphur content from December 1, 2017, after missing earlier deadlines.
“No one cares about quantity of sulphur in petrol when the deadline approached,” a senior staff at the ministry of environment told this newspaper.
“You only do this (inquire about sulphur content) when you have the product in surplus. We were, at a date we fixed to end this grave risk for our health and the engines of our automobiles and others, battling with fuel scarcity and, as I speak to you, no known action has been taken on this yet,” he said after his anonymity was guaranteed.
Nigeria, which produces over 2 million barrels of crude per day, still depends on importation of over 70 per cent of refined her refined products into the country.
“While such fuel has long been illegal in Western nations and is increasingly outlawed in the developing world, the deadlines for bans in the four West African countries keep being pushed back,” the source added.
Shifting the goal post
Precisely on December 1, 2016, Nigeria, Benin Republic Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire agreed to introduce strict standards to ensure cleaner, low sulphur diesel fuels and vehicle emission standards, effectively cutting off Europe’s West African market to export its dirty fuels.
The Federal Ministry of Environment had initially set July 1, 2017 deadline to begin the enforcement of the ban, but the deadline was missed.
“From July 1, 2017, we will commence the enforcement of the 50ppm sulphur in fuel. And the July deadline is on all fuels, diesel, petrol and kerosene. Everybody knows that this is going to take some efforts, which is why we gave the six months’ notice. What is more important is that we are working with the refineries on a long-term approach,” said former Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed.
“Some of the new refineries that are coming into position in Nigeria are coming in at 10ppm; South Africa is 15ppm. But for us, it is a West African problem and we hope that we can lead in West Africa by reducing it. So, there is no reason why we can’t do that,” Mohammed, who is now Deputy Secretary of United Nations, added.
While such fuel has long been illegal in Western nations and is increasingly outlawed in the developing world, the deadlines for bans in the four West African countries keep being pushed back, Reuters once reported.
According to reports, Ghana is the only regional state that has delivered on a pledge and codified rules preventing the import or transport of high sulphur gasoline or diesel.
After missing the July 1 deadline, Nigeria, the region’s biggest fuel consumer, set up a task force to examine the issue. Stopped
A Nigerian Environment Ministry official told Reuters that the task force aimed to advise the government on a new standard by late September, with new rules possible by December 1, 2017.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which has joined health campaigners pressing for change, said smaller nations – Togo and – Benin were waiting for Nigeria to act, while Ivory Coast had not progressed at all.
The five nations had promised cleaner fuel rules under pressure from campaign group ‘Public Eye,’ which criticised them and international trade houses for allowing cars, trucks and households to burn fuels banned in much of the rest of the world.
Ghana followed up by slashing sulphur content to 50 parts per million (ppm) for imported petrol and diesel, from 1,000 ppm and 3,000 ppm.
SON was said to have proposed 50 ppm for diesel and 150 ppm for petrol.
NNPC included prices for them in the Direct Sales, Direct Purchase (DSDP) deals with oil traders – at an extra cost of at least $25 per tonne.
But the country did not codify the standards in law, or issue new specifications to importers.
“As it stands, the status quo remains,” one Nigerian fuels importer said, adding that “nothing at all” had come from government.
Campaigners are struggling to keep the issue on the public agenda.
David Ugolor, who worked with Public Eye, reportedly said the cause lacked “someone with a strong political position” to implement the rules. He said the group was looking for ways to put pressure on suppliers.
NNPC contracts showed 150 ppm gasoline would cost anywhere from $20-$30 per tonne more than fuel with higher sulphur, while lower sulphur diesel would add just $10-$15 a tonne, an analyst told Reuters.
It is expected that the Federal Government will increase the price of petrol or bear the extra cost.
Given the higher cost of cleaner gasoline, campaigners said Nigeria might only introduce stricter rules for diesel.
Pennywise, Pound foolish
While the government kept shifting deadline to end importation of dirty fuel into the country, the micro and macro economies pay dearly for it. As at the last count, automobiles of both the poor and the rich in the country are at grave risk.
Professor of Economics and Director, Centre for Petroleum, Energy, Economics and Law, University of Ibadan told this newspaper that
high sulphur fuel like the one in circulation in Nigeria, leads to revenue loss through frequent breakdown of vehicles.
“The effects on the economy are enormous. Users of cars and machines will have to spend more money on maintenance and replacement. This will result in wear and tear, and economic loss. High sulphur fuel will also lead to environmental pollution and endanger people’s health, leading to low productivity,” Adenikinju said.
Death by installment
No matter how risky the sulphur-fuel is to lifespan of automobiles, the life of Nigerians, too, is on the cliff.
A study conducted by the Department of Physics at the University of Port Harcourt in 2012 linked rising cases of respiratory diseases to pollution mainly caused by combustion, especially of dirty fuel. The study analysed epidemiological data collected from the State Ministry of Health in relation to ambient air quality data of the state and National Ambient Air Quality Standard data and found that 30,435 disease cases were reported during 2003 to 2008, out of which 61 patients died.
The diseases found to be prevalent in the study area as a result of air pollution were pertussis, pulmonary tuberculosis, cerebrospinal meningitis (CSM), pneumonia, measles, chronic bronchitis, and upper respiratory tract infection (URT).
Consultant Public Health Physician/Epidemiologist and former Chief Medical Director, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Prof. Akin Osibogun, said in a document sighted by this newspaper that unless removed, sulphur, a natural component of crude oil, is retained in PMS and diesel.
“Its presence in petroleum products impairs the effectiveness of emission control systems and contributes to air pollution. The toxic substances in fuel increase incidences of bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory tract problems,” he said.
There are formations of oxides of sulphur from the combustion of sulphur, Osibogun declared. These oxides combine with moisture in the air to form sulphuric acid, a known carcinogenic agent and a respiratory tract irritant.
The presence of high levels of sulphur in fuel reduces their efficient combustion and results in high levels of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides emissions, thus affecting air quality, Osibogun explained.
“Acid rain formed from various oxides of sulphur, nitrogen and carbon, contribute to rapid deterioration of housing infrastructure e.g., roofs and paints, in addition to increased health costs and premature deaths.
“Reducing the level of sulphur in fuel attract additional costs and that makes lower sulphur content fuel to appear more expensive. In the long run, however, if we consider the health and environmental effects, lower sulphur content fuel may be cheaper. National economists, environmentalists and health experts have to conduct cost-benefit analyses to arrive at acceptable national standards,” he said.
The Federal Government should act fast by stopping the importation of dirty fuel into the country. A stitch in time saves nine. An action taken in this direction, on time, will not only save the automobiles in the country from embarrassing dip in lifespan but it will also end untimely death of people due to toxic result of the dirty fuel in the atmosphere.
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