Governments, oil companies, and development institutions around the world are encouraged to endorse the “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” Initiative. Read the full text below:
During oil production, associated gas is produced from the reservoir together with the oil. Much of this gas is utilized or conserved because governments and oil companies have made substantial investments to capture it; nevertheless, some of it is flared because of technical, regulatory, or economic constraints. As a result, thousands of gas flares at oil production sites around the globe burn approximately 140 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, causing more than 300 million tons of CO2 to be emitted to the atmosphere.
Flaring of gas contributes to climate change and impacts the environment through emission of CO2, black carbon and other pollutants. It also wastes a valuable energy resource that could be used to advance the sustainable development of producing countries. For example, if this amount of gas were used for power generation, it could provide about 750 billion kWh of electricity, or more than the African continent’s current annual electricity consumption. While associated gas cannot always be used to produce power, it can often be utilized in a number of other productive ways or conserved (re-injected into an underground formation).
This “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” initiative (the Initiative), introduced by the World Bank, brings together governments, oil companies, and development institutions who recognize the flaring situation described above is unsustainable from a resource management and environmental perspective, and who agree to cooperate to eliminate routine flaring no later than 2030.
The Initiative pertains to routine flaring and not to flaring for safety reasons or non-routine flaring, which nevertheless should be minimized. Routine flaring of gas is flaring during normal oil production operations in the absence of sufficient facilities or amenable geology to re-inject the produced gas, utilize it on-site, or dispatch it to a market. Venting is not an acceptable substitute for flaring.
Governments that endorse the Initiative will provide a legal, regulatory, investment, and operating environment that is conducive to upstream investments and to the development of viable markets for utilization of the gas and the infrastructure necessary to deliver the gas to these markets. This will provide companies the confidence and incentive as a basis for investing in flare elimination solutions. Governments will require, and stipulate in their new prospect offers, that field development plans for new oil fields incorporate sustainable utilization or conservation of the field’s associated gas without routine flaring. Furthermore, governments will make every effort to ensure that routine flaring at existing oil fields ends as soon as possible, and no later than 2030.
Oil companies that endorse the Initiative will develop new oil fields they operate 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 they operate will seek to implement economically viable solutions to eliminate this legacy flaring as soon as possible, and no later than 2030.
Development institutions that endorse the Initiative will facilitate cooperation and implementation, and consider the use of financial instruments and other measures, particularly in their client countries. They will endeavor to do so also in client countries that have not endorsed the Initiative.
Governments and oil companies that endorse the Initiative will publicly report their flaring and progress towards the Initiative on an annual basis. They also agree to the World Bank aggregating and reporting the same.
The parties that endorse the Initiative acknowledge that its success requires all involved – governments and oil companies, with the support of development institutions – to fully cooperate and take the action described herein to eliminate routine flaring no later than 2030.
(In alphabetical order)
Benefits and commitments for endorsing governments |Download PDF
Benefits and commitments for endorsing oil companies | Download PDF
In 2014 (latest available data), 4306 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas was produced from gas fields and oil fields (associated gas). In addition 455 bcm was re-injected and 145 bcm flared. (US Energy Information Agency (EIA)).
2. What is associated gas?
"Associated gas" is gas dissolved in the oil that is produced together with oil at oil production sites. The bulk of natural gas produced is, however, "non-associated" gas i.e. gas produced from gas fields and not related to oil production.
3. How much of the gas produced is associated gas?
Published natural gas production data is not specified by type - associated vs non-associated gas. An estimate, based on a compilation of gas flaring volumes at the majority of oil fields in the world, is that approximately 20% of produced natural gas is associated gas.
4. In energy terms, how large is the gas usage in comparison to the two other major fossil fuels, oil and coal?
In 2015, gas represented about 24% of total energy usage. Oil represented 33%, coal represented 29%, nuclear, hydro and renewables represented the remaining 13% (BP Statistics).
It is estimated that, in 2012 (latest data available), 15% of associated gas production was flared or vented, 58% re-injected and 27% utilized (EIA).
6. Is flared gas a large amount of energy in the big picture?
Flared gas represents some 4% of the total gas produced. It is very significant when you consider how flared gas could be used for beneficial purposes rather than wasted. For example, the amount of gas flared globally would be sufficient to generate 750 billion kWh of electricity, which is enough to power the entire African continent.
7. Why is it flared?
Oil production facilities are often distant from potential markets for the gas, and local opportunities for its use – re-injection or electricity generation for on-site use – may be limited. Getting this gas to a market requires a level of infrastructure investment that sometimes makes use of the gas uneconomic. In other cases market conditions may be unfavorable (gas price; non-paying consumers). Furthermore, gas can sometimes be flared for lack of priority, even when economic utilization options exist.
8. What could flared gas be used for?
Flared gas, primarily associated gas, is very similar to the natural gas that is used all over the world for power generation, as feedstock for the manufacture of chemicals, distributed to homes, etc. However, it requires processing to remove contaminants before it can be used in these ways. Associated gas can also sometimes be re-injected into the oil reservoir to increase oil production.
9. If, for any reason, you cannot use flared gas to produce electricity in a specific location, do you have a realistic alternative?
Flared gas is often of relatively small volume and with an unstable production profile, making its use difficult. However, in some cases it can be re-injected into the oil reservoir to increase oil production, used on-site for generating electricity, liquefied for transportation as LNG, or converted into liquid form (e.g. synthetic oil, diesel, methanol, DME) by using gas-to-liquid (GTL) technologies. Recent developments in GTL technologies have significantly reduced their cost, making them more suitable for small volumes. Nevertheless, GTL technologies are often at an early stage of development and may still not be economically viable, especially at low oil prices (<~U$ 50/bbl).
10. What would the value of the flared gas be in dollar terms?
Valued at a typical wholesale price of gas in the USA of around 4 US$/million Btu, the 145 billion cubic meters being flared every year would be worth around US$ 20 billion. If the flared gas contains significant quantities of natural gas liquids (NGLs), these can add considerably to the value of the gas. Note that the value estimate above does not take into account the significant cost of bringing associated gas to a market. Also, prices of gas in many other markets, such as in Europe, are substantially higher than in the US. In some developing countries where energy supply is limited, the opportunity value of using the gas to generate electricity, fuel industry, etc. can be many multiples of the gas value itself.
11. Flaring has increased in the United States due to the development of shale oil. Why is that and what can be done about it?
Shale oil is being developed in the United States using a technology called hydraulic fracturing (or 'fracking'). This enables oil to be produced from otherwise unproductive oil reservoirs. Unlike more conventional oil field developments, this production method results in multiple, small production centers (over 6000 in N. Dakota alone). As in all oil production, gas is produced with the oil, and the widely dispersed production locations make it difficult to collect the gas economically. The main solution is to build a gas collection network, but building such a network is time consuming, and the rapid growth in the number of production sites makes it difficult for collection networks to keep pace, although the situation has improved. Also, progress is being made in applying small-scale, movable technologies such as compressed natural gas (CNG) or small-scale liquefaction plants (mini-LNG) that could contribute to increasing gas collection.
12. Other than at oil production sites, where else does gas flaring take place?
Flaring also takes place at some gas processing plants, LNG terminals, oil refineries, and in the petrochemical industry.
13. Does gas flaring also take place at gas fields?
At the majority of gas fields there is no, or only minimal, routine flaring. However, a relatively small number of gas fields contain gas with significant volumes of heavier hydrocarbons that are extracted from the produced gas and sold. While in many cases the lighter components, methane and ethane, are then re-injected into the reservoir, in some cases these components are flared. This type of flaring is arguably worse than flaring from oil fields because a larger portion of the overall hydrocarbon production is being flared.
14. What does "routine flaring" mean?
Routine flaring of gas is flaring during normal oil production operations in the absence of sufficient facilities or amenable geology to re-inject the produced gas, utilize it on-site, or dispatch it to a market.
15. What are the other types of flaring?
At oil production facilities, in addition to "routine flaring", there is also "safety flaring" and "non-routine flaring". Definitions of these three types of flaring can be found on the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) website (www.worldbank.org/ggfr).
16. What are the proportions of the various types of flaring?
The proportions depend very much on the level of utilization of the associated gas. For example, in Norway where utilization is very high, there is negligible routine flaring and nearly all flaring is non-routine or safety related. Conversely, in Nigeria where significant routine flaring still takes place, non-routine flaring is estimated to represent only about 15% of the total. Safety flaring is normally a very small part of the total gas flared.
17. Which countries flare the most?
Satellite data estimates from 2015 show that the seven largest flaring countries, contributing to 59% of the world's total flaring, were Russia, Iraq, Iran, the United States, Venezuela, Algeria, and Nigeria.
18. Who flares?
Gas flaring takes place at every oil production facility in the world; satellite data currently identifies over 16,000 flaring locations globally, in about 90 countries. However, in many cases the volumes being flared are very small. Some flaring is almost always necessary to maintain the safe operation of the facility.
19. How much CO2 equivalent emissions does gas flaring cause?
Each cubic meter of associated gas flared results in about 2.5 kilograms of CO2e emissions. With annual global flaring levels estimated at approximately 145 bcm, this results in about 400 million tons of CO2-equivalent emissions annually. This figure assumes a flare combustion efficiency of 98% (i.e. about 2% un-combusted gas leaking into the atmosphere); flare efficiency can be significantly lower depending on various conditions such as wind and gas composition.
20. From a global perspective, is gas flaring causing a "large amount" of CO2 emissions?
Global CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion in 2015 was 32 billion tonnes. Flaring emissions of CO2 are estimated to be about 350 million tonnes i.e. about 1% of the total. Flaring gas is, however, totally unproductive, and can be avoided far more easily than much of the other CO2 emissions. The gas could be put to good use and potentially displace other fuels, e.g. coal and diesel, that generate higher emissions per energy unit.
21. Does flaring also cause emissions of methane gas, an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2?
Since flares do not burn all the gas sent to a flare, emission of methane does occur during gas flaring. Under ideal conditions, the most efficient flares combust about 98% of the gas, but some flares, operating less efficiently, may combust as little as 60-70% of the gas. While the other gas components, ethane, butane, propane etc. make a negligible contribution to climate change if they remain unburnt, unburnt methane can contribute significantly to the flares’ greenhouse gas emissions.
22. Gas flaring causes emissions of black carbon. Please explain.
In some flares the hydrocarbons are only partly burnt and some of their carbon content is emitted as grains of black carbon (soot). This occurs when there is insufficient mixing of the gas with oxygen in the air to complete the combustion process. Black carbon production is exacerbated when the gas being burnt contains significant liquid hydrocarbon in droplet form.
23. Why are emissions of black carbon from gas flaring important?
Black carbon, or soot, is a very significant "short-lived climate change forcer" i.e. it makes a significant contribution to climate change but only briefly as it is rapidly removed from the atmosphere by natural processes such as rain. By contrast, CO2 has a very long life in the atmosphere. Reducing black carbon emissions could, therefore, make a significant and rapid contribution to climate change mitigation. Flaring in and near the Arctic areas are of particular concern because black carbon, or soot, deposits on the Arctic snow and ice cap, which severely reduces its reflective power (albedo) and thus accelerates climate change. Research indicates that as much as 40% of soot deposits on snow and ice within the Arctic Circle comes from gas flaring.
24. Does gas flaring have local health impacts?
Gas flares are known to emit a variety of components hazardous to health, including particles of carbon, nitrogen monoxide, carbon monoxide (all of which can cause respiratory problems), benzene (which is carcinogenic), and volatile organic compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which can cause a variety of ailments. For those living close to flares, their noise can also be a major issue. There is, however, little data as to how proximity to flares, duration of exposure, etc. are linked to actual health problems as few studies of the health impact of flaring have been carried out.
25. Prior to the 2015 United Nations climate conference (COP21), almost all countries were asked to make commitments to reduce their CO2 emissions. Did some governments include gas flaring reduction in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)?
Yes, eleven countries did so (Algeria, Bahrain, China, Ecuador, Egypt, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Oman, Saudi Arabia), and many more could address flaring to help meet NDC commitments. 43 countries produce more than 100,000 barrels oil/day.
26. Does the “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” Initiative focus on certain types of flaring?
Yes. The Initiative pertains to routine flaring that occurs during normal production of oil in the absence of sufficient facilities to utilize the gas on-site or dispatch it to a market, or amenable geology to re-inject it. The typical example this Initiative addresses is long-term continuous flaring for gas disposal where a gas market or injection capacity does not exist. The Initiative does not include non-routine flaring events, such as for exploration and appraisal; initial well flow-back; well servicing; process upset; safety or emergency situations; equipment or gas handling infrastructure malfunction; or de-pressuring equipment for maintenance. The Initiative also excludes purge and pilot flaring necessary for safe flare operation, combustion of hazardous or polluting emissions, such as volatile organic compounds and hydrogen sulphide. Some flare gas sources (e.g. glycol treatment facilities, produced water treatment facilities) are so small and at such low pressure that it is environmentally more beneficial to utilize resources to reduce other flaring sources and other types of emission.
27. Why wait until 2030 to stop routine flaring, why not stop flaring right now?
The Initiative asks oil companies and governments to end ongoing routine flaring as soon as possible, and no later than by 2030. The actions needed to stop routine flaring are far-reaching and take considerable time and resources to plan and execute properly.
28. Why haven't the largest major international oil companies endorsed the Initiative?
Almost all of the largest international oil companies have already endorsed the Initiative, and more of them are expected to join over time. Typically, there are time-consuming due diligence processes to find out what removing flares would cost and how to proceed to obtain the best return on flare-out investments. Some international oil companies that haven’t endorsed the Initiative yet, have internal flaring policies consistent with the Initiative. Thus one should not conclude that flaring reduction efforts by non-endorsers of the Initiative are less effective. Endorsing the Initiative would, however, help these companies better communicate their flaring policies and provide a global forum to work with other industry players to end routine flaring.
29. Isn't the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) doing the same as this new Initiative?
The Initiative sets clear targets for the future. GGFR's role is not to set such targets, but to facilitate flaring reduction activities to help meet the 2030 target.
30. Why isn't GGFR in the list of endorsers of the Initiative?
GGFR is a global partnership and it is up to the individual members to decide whether or not to endorse the Initiative. Almost all partners have already done so; those that have yet to endorse are still engaged in internal deliberations and assessment.
31. What are some common reasons why governments would NOT endorse the Initiative?
A majority of major oil producing countries are expected to endorse the Initiative, but it takes time and dialog to explain the consequences and nature of the commitment, and many governments need to follow a rigorous due diligence process before committing to the Initiative. As of end 2016, half the global flaring volume is within government jurisdictions covered by the “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” Initiative.
32. What are the common reasons why oil companies would NOT endorse the Initiative?
Most major oil companies are expected eventually to endorse the initiative, but they also follow a rigorous due diligence process before committing to the Initiative.
33. Besides the positive environmental and climate change impacts of abiding by the Initiative, what other positive impacts could endorsing the Initiative have for governments and oil companies?
Instead of being flared, associated gas can be used in many different ways for the benefit of the local population. It can fuel power generation; provide liquid petroleum gases (LPGs) for heating or cooking; be used as feedstock for petrochemicals; and generate revenue through export.
34. Is "Zero Routine Flaring by 2030" a realistic goal?
Yes, it is. There will still be some flaring for safety reasons and in non-routine situations.
35. What will oil companies and governments do differently after they have endorsed the Initiative?
Oil companies and governments will ensure that new oil fields are developed without routine flaring. In addition, they will proactively address the ongoing "legacy" flaring to reduce or eliminate it at earliest opportunity. The initiative also reinforces the idea that governments, oil companies, and institutions all need to work together to eliminate routine flaring on a global scale.
36. Are you forcing governments and oil companies into uneconomic investments under the Initiative?
The Initiative does not force governments or oil companies to invest in uneconomic projects. The Initiative aims to stimulate and create the right environment of cooperation between all stakeholders so that economic solutions are found through appropriate regulation, application of technologies, and financial arrangements.
37. What would it cost to eliminate routine flaring by 2030?
Studies on potential costs of flare reduction indicate a very wide range in the unit capital cost of flare mitigation. Studies from Iraq, Russia, and Nigeria, albeit few in number, indicate an average cost of around 6-9 US$/ft3/day (85 - 125 US$/t CO2/day) for onshore projects. (Note: This is the cost to install sufficient capacity to utilize 1 ft3 of flared gas). The cost of eliminating flaring offshore is generally significantly higher. This implies a potential cost of well over US$100 billion to eliminate the gas currently flared. It is important to note this estimate does not include revenues from utilization of the gas.
38. How will we know that endorsing entities abide by the Initiative and that we can trust the reported flaring volumes?
Endorsing governments and oil companies will annually report their flaring and progress towards the Initiative. The World Bank will report the same, including the aggregated volumes on this website. (2017 will be the first year reporting will be published.) This is not to say it is an easy task; in part because the volume of most flaring is still estimated rather than metered. In addition, satellite monitoring will continue to provide estimates of flaring volumes for every country.
39. Is the Initiative legally binding?
The Initiative is not legally binding, but it establishes a clear public commitment verified through flare monitoring and using a variety of means, including government and company reports and satellite observations. Endorsers have repeatedly communicated they take the commitment very seriously and is why it can take some time to reach a decision.
40. What will the consequences be for an endorser not abiding by the commitments under the Initiative?
The initiative does not include any enforcement measures or penalties. However, its visibility and high global profile ensure that a failure to demonstrate commitment to the Initiative will be a significant reputational issue.
41. What will the World Bank do to support the Initiative when implemented?
The World Bank will (i) monitor the progress of the endorsers, (ii) continue to promote the Initiative and seek additional endorsements, and (iii) aid in the implementation of the Initiative, including considering the use of financial instruments and other measures, particularly in developing countries. The World Bank will also continue to be an active GGFR partner and continue its efforts to end routine flaring worldwide.
42. Do endorsing governments have gas flaring regulation in place that is consistent with the Initiative?
Many have regulations with the same objective, but not always in a manner that has proved effective. One of the objectives of this Initiative would be to support governments in development of effective regulations. But for new oil field developments it is simple: the government makes it clear in bidding rounds and concession documents that oil field development plans require utilization (or re-injection) of the associated gas.
43. Why doesn't the Initiative address flaring at other locations than oil production sites?
Flaring at oil production sites represents by far the largest share of global flaring. Efforts are therefore focused there, rather than being diluted on all flaring sources.
44. Why doesn't the Initiative also address non-routine and safety flaring?
Safety flaring is both small in volume and essential for the safe operation of oil and gas production facilities. Non-routine flaring is often unforeseen in nature. For example, it could be due to issues with the operation of the facility, and as such is hard to mitigate. Oil companies are, of course, strongly encouraged to take measures to minimize all types of flaring.
45. How much of global flaring do the current endorsers of the Initiative represent?
Based on satellite estimates and publicly reported flaring data, together the endorsers represent more than 50% of global flaring.
A government or oil company that endorses the “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” Initiative will provide flaring data for first full calendar year after they have endorsed the Initiative.
First reporting will take place in 2017 for calendar year 2016.
By declaring support and officially endorsing the Initiative, governments, companies, and development institutions are sending a message that eliminating routine flaring of gas is a significant and necessary step toward mitigating climate change and ensuring valuable natural resources are not wasted.
Governments, companies and development institutions must support each other in this effort through a spirit of collaboration and partnership.
Endorsers will join a growing global coalition demonstrating strong environmental leadership and effective natural resource management.
Governments, oil companies and development institutions interested in endorsing the Initiative or learning more about it, please email us with your name and contact information. (Sending an email does not constitute an endorsement of the Initiative.) Other organizations or individuals interested in this Initative please email us as well.
Learn more about the World Bank-led Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership.