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OWOE - Oil And Gas - What is flaring, and why is it a concern?
  Figure 1 - Onshore Oil Well Flaring in Nigeria (The Light News)
Figure 1 - Onshore Oil Well Flaring in Nigeria (The Light News)
Figure 2 - Top 20 gas flaring countries (World Bank)
End to Flaring Can Provide Energy to Millions
What is flaring, and why is it a concern?
Topic updated: 2015-10-15

Flaring is the practice of burning the natural gas that is produced along with oil, typically at the wellhead (see Figure 1). This practice contributes to climate change and air pollution and wastes a valuable resource. There are a variety of technical, regulatory, and economic reasons for flaring. The most common reason is that there is no economic way to sell the gas. This could be due to lack of need, such as in an undeveloped country that does not use gas as an energy source, or lack of pipeline infrastructure to get the gas to the market. There are several modern techniques for disposing of natural gas without flaring, but these tend to be expensive options that may not be economically feasible. For example, in remote areas the gas can be reinjected into the oil producing reservoir. This requires additional wells and can impact oil production. In regions where there is sufficient gas production, liquified natural gas (LNG) processing facilities can convert the gas to a liquid and transport it by a specially designed ship. Such facilities cost many billions of dollars.

Every year, approximately 140 billion cubic meters of natural gas is disposed of through flaring at thousands of oil fields around the world. Figure 2 shows the top 20 gas flaring countries, with Russia accounting for the most by far, followed by Nigeria, Iran and Iraq. In recent years the US has increased the amount it flares, driven by increased production from the fracking boom, to end up in 5th position.This amount of flaring worldwide results in more than 300 million tons of CO2 being emitted to the atmosphere, which is equivalent to emissions from approximately 77 million cars. If this gas were used to generate electrical power, it could provide approximately 750 billion kWh per year, which is more than the entire continent of Africa consumes.

On April 17, 2015 chief executives from several major oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell and Statoil, joined together with senior government officials from several oil-producing countries to commit to ending the practice of routine gas flaring at oil production sites by 2030 at the latest. The endorsers of the "Zero Routine Flaring by 2030" initiative collectively represent more than 40 percent of global gas flaring. Oil companies that endorse the initiative will develop new oil fields according to plans that incorporate sustainable utilization or conservation of the field's associated gas without routine flaring. Oil companies with routine flaring at existing oil fields will seek to implement economically viable solutions to eliminate this flaring as soon as possible, and no later than 2030.

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