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
1. How much gas is produced globally?
In 2012, 3370 billion cubic meters of gas was produced. In addition 453 bcm was re-injected and 140 bcm flared. (BP Statistics and US Energy Information Agency (EIA).
2. In energy terms, how large is the gas usage in comparison to the two other major fossil fuels, oil and coal?
In 2012, gas represented about 24% of total energy usage. Oil represented 33%, coal represented 30%, nuclear, hydro and renewables represented the remaining 13% (BP Statistics).
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. How much of the associated gas is flared, utilized, re-injected?
It is estimated that, in 2012, 15% of associated gas production was flared or vented, 58% re-injected and 27% utilized (EIA).
5. 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 look at how the flared gas volume could be used to good effect rather than wasted. For example, it would be sufficient to generate 750 billion kWh of electricity, enough to power the entire African continent.
6. What would the value of the flared gas be in dollar terms?
Valued at the current price of gas in the USA of around 4 US$/million Btu, the 140 billion cubic meters being flared every year would be worth around US$ 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. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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 could sometimes be flared for lack of priority, even when economic utilization options exist.
9. 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.
10. If for any reason you cannot use flared gas to produce electricity in a specific location, do you have a realistic alternative?
At a given site, flared gas is often of relatively small volume and with an unstable production profile, making its use difficult. It can however, in some cases, be re-injected into the oil reservoir to increase oil production, used on-site for generating electricity or converted into liquid form (e.g. synthetic oil, diesel, methanol, DME) by using gas-to-liquid (GTL) technologies. Recent developments in these GTL technologies have significantly reduced their cost, making them more suitable for these small volumes. Nevertheless, they are still often not economically viable, or the technologies have not yet been sufficiently tested for economic robustness.
11. Flaring has increased in the USA due to the development of shale oil. Why is that and what can be done about it?
Shale oil is being developed in the USA 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 mode of production results in multiple, small production centers (over 6000 in N. Dakota alone in 2013). As in all oil production, gas is produced with the oil, and the widely dispersed production locations make it difficult to collect the gas for its economic use. 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 has made it difficult for collection networks to keep pace. However progress is being made in small-scale, movable technologies that could contribute to increasing gas collection.
12. Does gas flaring also take place at gas fields?
At the majority of gas fields there is no, or only minimal, routine flaring. A relatively small number of gas fields however contain gas with significant volumes of heavier hydrocarbons which are extracted from the produced gas for sale. While in many cases the lighter components, methane and ethane, are then re-injected into the reservoir, in some cases these are flared. Such flaring is arguably worse than flaring from oil fields because a larger portion of the overall hydrocarbon production is being flared.
13. 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.
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 other types of flaring are there?
At oil production facilities, in addition to "routine flaring", there is also "safety flaring" and "non-routine flaring".
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. In all cases, safety flaring is a very small part of the total gas flared.
17. Which countries flare the most?
Satellite data estimates from 2012 show that the eight largest flaring countries, contributing to over 65% of the world's total flaring, were Russia, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, USA, Algeria, Kazakhstan and Venezuela.
18. Who flares?
Gas flaring takes place at every oil production facility in the world. However, in many cases the volumes are very small. Flaring is necessary to maintain the safe operation of the facility. Estimates from satellite data of the flare volumes in 2012 identify the five largest flaring countries to be Russia, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq and USA.
19. How much CO2 emissions does gas flaring cause?
Each cubic meter of associated gas flared results in about 2.5 kilograms of CO2 emissions. With annual global flaring levels estimated at approximately 140 billion cubic meters, this results in about 350 million tons of CO2 emissions annually. This figure assumes a flare combustion efficiency of 98%, which is not always the case depending on various conditions such as wind and gas composition.
20. Is gas flaring causing a "large amount" of CO2 emissions in a global perspective?
Global CO2 emissions in 2013 was 36 billion tonnes. Flaring emissions 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, that generate higher emissions per energy unit.
21. Does flaring also cause emissions of methane gas, an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2?
Gas flares do not burn all the gas sent to a flare. 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’ emissions.
22. Gas flaring causes emissions of black carbon. Please explain.
In some flares, the hydrocarbons in flared gas 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. The production of black carbon 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 lifetime in the atmosphere. Reducing black carbon emissions could, therefore, make a significant and rapid contribution to the mitigation of climate change. 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 and thus accelerates climate change. Early-stage 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 products hazardous to health including particles of carbon, nitrogen monoxide, carbon monoxide (which all 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 very close to flares, their noise can also be a major issue. There is, however, little definitive 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. There are many types of flaring. Does this initiative focus on certain types of flaring?
The initiative text pertains to routine flaring that occurs during normal production of oil in the absence of sufficient facilities to utilize the produced gas on-site or dispatch it to a market, or amenable geology to re-inject it. The typical example is long-term continuous flaring for disposal of gas where a gas outlet to market or injection capacity does not exist. The scope of the Initiative does not include non-routine flaring events such as 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. It 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.
26. 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.
27. Why haven't the largest major international oil companies endorsed the Initiative?
Many of the largest oil companies have already endorsed the Initiative, and more of them are expected to join over time. Before joining, there are typically 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.
28. 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.
29. Why isn't GGFR in the list of endorsers of the Initiative?
GGFR is a partnership and it is up to the individual members to decide whether or not to endorse the Initiative. Many of them have already done so.
30. What are the common reasons why governments would NOT endorse the Initiative?
We expect a majority of oil producing countries to endorse the Initiative. But it takes time and dialog to explain the consequences and the nature of the commitment endorsing the Initiative entails. Many countries need to follow a rigorous due diligence process before committing to the Initiative. We respect this and understand their willingness to ensure that it is consistent with the aspirations of their nation. We will support them in this process and endeavor to secure their endorsement before COP21.
31. What are the common reasons why oil companies would NOT endorse the Initiative?
Similarly, we believe most major oil companies will eventually endorse the initiative, but they also follow a rigorous due diligence process before committing to the Initiative. We will assist them in this process and endeavor to secure their endorsement before COP21.
32. 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 or industry, provide LPGs for heating or cooking, be used as feedstock for petrochemicals, and finally it can provide financial resources through export.
33. Is "Zero Routine Flaring by 2030" a realistic goal?
Yes, for the countries and oil companies that endorse the Initiative. There will still be some flaring for safety reasons and in non-routine situations.
34. What will oil companies and governments do differently after they have endorsed the Initiative?
Oil companies and governments will ensure that new oil fields will be developed without routine flaring. 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.
35. 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 the right environment of cooperation between all stakeholders so that economic solutions are found through appropriate regulation, application of technologies, and financial arrangements.
36. What would it cost to eliminate routine flaring by 2030?
There is minimal publicly available data on the cost of flare reduction activities, but from studies on potential costs it is clear there is a very wide range in the unit capital cost of flare mitigation. Recent studies from Iraq, Russia, and Nigeria 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 an ft3 of utilization capacity.) 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. Note that this estimate does not include revenues from utilization of the gas.
37. 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 comment on their progress towards the Initiative. The World Bank will report the same, including the aggregated volumes on the Initiative's website. 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 allow estimates of flaring volumes for every country.
38. Is the Initiative legally binding?
It is not a legally binding document, but it establishes a firm public commitment that will be verified through the monitoring of the flaring using a variety of means, including the government and company reports and satellite observations. Discussions with endorsing parties show that they take the commitment very seriously. This is why governments and companies take time before endorsing the Initiative.
39. What will the consequences be for an endorsing entity 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 failure to demonstrate commitment to the Initiative will be a reputational issue.
40. Will the Initiative have a real impact on flaring and CO2 emissions?
Yes. In endorsing countries and endorsing oil company operations it will eliminate most of the flaring and resultant CO2 emissions at oil production sites.
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) facilitate the implementation of the Initiative, including consider the use of financial instruments and other measures, particularly in its client countries. The World Bank will also continue to host the GGFR partnership in its efforts to facilitate flaring reduction worldwide.
42. Do the countries that have endorsed the Initiative have gas flaring regulation in place that is consistent with the Initiative?
Many have regulations that aim for the same objective, but not always in a manner that has proved effective. One of the objectives of this Initiative would be to support them in development of effective regulations.
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. We have therefore decided to focus on that rather than diluting our efforts 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 both these 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 over 40% 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.