Washington, December 12, 2016 – New data released today shows an increase over the past five years in the amount of gas flared at oil production sites worldwide, reversing a trend of flaring reduction. The flaring increase is mainly attributed to an overall growth in oil production, particularly in Iraq and the United States.
The data was released by the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR), a World Bank-led organization comprised of oil companies, governments, and international institutions working to reduce gas flaring. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and GGFR have developed the flaring estimates based on observations from advanced sensors in a satellite launched in 2012. The data shows 147 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas was estimated flared in 2015 up from 145 bcm in 2014 and 141 bcm in 2013. Russia remains the world’s largest gas flaring country, flaring about 21 bcm annually, followed by Iraq (16 bcm), Iran (12 bcm), the United States (12 bcm), and Venezuela (9 bcm).
Many countries have reduced their flaring over the last several years. Among the large flaring countries, Nigeria has made significant progress, reducing flaring by 18 percent since 2013, to less than 8 bcm in 2015.
Gas flaring – the burning of natural gas associated with oil extraction – takes place because of technical, regulatory, or economic constraints. As a result, there are more than 16,000 gas flares at oil production sites worldwide, causing about 350 million tons of CO2 to be emitted to the atmosphere every year. Furthermore, flaring in northern areas of the globe is a major source for the black carbon (soot) that deposits on the Arctic ice cap, which accelerates melting.
Flaring also wastes a natural resource that could be put to productive use or conserved (by reinjecting it into the ground). For example, if the 147 bcm of gas flared globally 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.
A global initiative to end routine gas flaring at oil production sites around the world has now been endorsed by 62 oil companies, governments and development institutions. Endorsers commit to not routinely flare gas in new oil field developments and to end routine flaring at existing oil production sites as soon as possible and no later than 2030.
“The Initiative has galvanized industry and brought global attention to a 150 year-old practice that needs to end,” said Riccardo Puliti, World Bank Senior Director for Energy and Extractive Industries. “While the recent increase in flaring is disappointing, we are encouraged by the longer term trend and industry’s desire to identify and implement solutions, as witnessed by the number of Initiative endorsers in just over a year.”
The “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” Initiative was launched on April 17, 2015, by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and 25 initial endorsers. Governments and oil companies that have endorsed the Initiative represent about 53% of global gas flaring.