Gas flaring: An emission that escapes global attention

Gas flaring results in 400 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emission every year and hit highest levels in a decade recently

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 27 July 2020
Gas flaring results in 400 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emission every year and hit highest levels in a decade recently. Photo: needpix.com

It is a persistent emission that adds to atmospheric pollution significantly but never gets the required attention. Gas flaring or burning of natural gas during oil extraction contributes 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent every year.

A recent analysis from the World Bank says that gas flaring is not only increasing but has also hit the highest level in a decade. In 2019, for which the latest data is available, gas flaring increased to 150 billion cubic metres (BCM). It was 145 BCM in 2018. To make sense of the latest data, the gas burnt or wasted is equal to Sub-Saharan Africa’s annual gas consumption. 

“Our data suggests that gas flaring continues to be a persistent problem, with solutions remaining difficult or uneconomic in certain countries,” Christopher Sheldon, practice manager in the Energy & Extractives Global Practice, the World Bank, said.

The three per cent rise in gas flaring in just a year is mostly due to increase in three countries — the United States, Venezuela and Russia. The US reported an increase of 23 per cent in gas flaring, highest among the three countries that contributed to overall global rise. Venezuela and Russia reported increases of 16 and 9 per cent respectively during 2018-19.

In many countries, local conflicts also contribute to the rise in gas flaring as there is no proper attention to curb the wastage of the precious resource. For instance, in Syria, it went up by 35 per cent and in Venezuela by 16 per cent. In Syria, oil production has stagnated while in Venezuela it has decreased by 40 per cent, according to the World Bank.

“The current COVID-19 pandemic and crisis brings additional challenges, with sustainability and climate concerns potentially sidelined. We must reverse this worrying trend and end routine gas flaring once and for all,” Sheldon said.

A global body of governments concerned, oil companies and institutions called the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) monitors gas flaring and works on ways to reduce flaring and the waste. In 2012, a dedicated satellite was deployed to estimate gas flaring from across the word through powerful sensors.

Partners to the above coalition aim to attain zero flaring by 2030. “We are garnering more commitments from governments and companies to end routine flaring through the Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 initiative. Over 80 governments and companies, accounting for over half of the world’s routine flaring, have pledged to end this 160-year-old practice,” Zubin Bamji, programme manager of the GGFR Trust Fund, managed by the World Bank, said.

However, there are some green shoots as well. In the first quarter of 2020 fiscal (Jan-March), flaring has reduced by 10 per cent across 30 top gas flaring countries. In fact, barring the top four gas flaring countries — Russia, Iraq, the US and Iran — flaring has reduced by 9 BCM during 2012-2019. 

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