In this FAQ, we've put together some commonly asked questions to give you more information about gas flaring and the "Zero Routine Flaring by 2030" (ZRF) Initiative.
In this FAQ, we've put together some commonly asked questions to give you more information about gas flaring and the "Zero Routine Flaring by 2030" (ZRF) Initiative.
Associated gas composition can vary widely at different locations, from almost pure methane with some ethane, to gas that also contains heavier hydrocarbons like propane and butane. In many cases, where the gas produced has high levels of propane and butane, these components are removed and sold as Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) before the gas is flared. The bulk of natural gas produced is " non-associated" gas, i.e., gas produced from gas fields and not related to oil production. “Associated gas" is a by-product of oil extraction and often considered a waste product if there is not an easily accessible gas market. However, associated gas can be used in several productive ways, including to generate electricity. Sometimes the gas can also be conserved by re-injecting it back into the reservoir.
Published natural gas production data is not specified by type - associated vs non-associated gas – so this can be challenging to determine. However, an estimate, based on a compilation of gas flaring volumes at the majority of oil fields in the world, is that approximately 20 percent of produced natural gas is associated gas.
In 2021, gas represented about 24 percent of total energy usage. Oil represented 31 percent; coal represented 27 percent; nuclear, hydro, and renewables represented the remaining 18 percent (From BP Statistics 2022).
The majority of gas flaring is the burning of gas associated with oil extraction. This polluting practice has persisted since oil production began over 160 years ago and takes place due to a range of issues, from market and economic constraints, to a lack of appropriate regulation and political will. Flaring releases greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, and is a monumental waste of a valuable natural resource that should either be used for productive purposes, such as generating power for communities lacking access to electricity, or conserved. Globally, the amount of gas that is currently flared in 2022 – about 139 billion cubic meters – is greater than the European Union's 27 member states’ gas imports from Russia.
Associated gas is flared because of technical, regulatory, or economic constraints. In other cases, market conditions may be unfavorable (e.g., gas price; non-access to network, non-paying consumers). Furthermore, associated gas can sometimes be flared because the field operator hasn’t prioritized its use, even when economic and technical utilization options exist.
A significant financial investment is often associated with harnessing, processing, and transporting the gas to markets, particularly when gas flare sites are far away from any existing form of transport or infrastructure. To end all existing routine flaring (see below for a definition of ‘routine’ flaring), the cost could be as much as $100 billion.
Most flared gas, primarily associated gas, is very similar to the natural gas used worldwide for power generation, as feedstock for the manufacture of chemicals, distributed to homes, etc. However, it may require processing to remove contaminants before it can be used. Associated gas can also be used on-site for generating electricity, compressed or liquefied for transportation as compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquified natural gas (LNG) respectively, or converted into liquid form (e.g., synthetic oil, diesel, methanol, DME) by using gas-to-liquid (GTL) technologies. Associated gas can also sometimes be re-injected into the oil reservoir to increase oil production, or for storage or disposal.
If all of the gas flared worldwide each year – about 140 billion cubic meters in 2022 – was used productively, it could generate more energy than the current power generation capacity of sub-Saharan Africa.
Flaring also occurs at some gas processing plants, LNG terminals, oil refineries, and in the petrochemical industry. However, over 90% of global gas flaring takes place at oil and gas production facilities.
At the majority of gas fields, there is little 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. These fields are usually referred to as “gas condensate field”. While in many cases the lighter components, methane and ethane are then re-injected into the reservoir to maintain the reservoir pressure, in some cases these components are flared for cost management and practicality reasons. This type of flaring is arguably worse than flaring from oil fields because a larger portion of the overall hydrocarbon production is being flared.
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.
At oil and gas production facilities, in addition to "routine flaring," there is also "safety flaring" and "non-routine flaring." The Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) has published definitions of all three types of flaring.
The proportions depend very much on the level of utilization of the associated gas. For example, in some countries where utilization is very high, there is negligible routine flaring and nearly all flaring is non-routine or safety-related. Conversely, in other countries where significant routine flaring still takes place, it is estimated to represent about 65-85 percent of the total. Safety flaring is normally a very small part of the total gas flared.
Gas flaring takes place at nearly every oil production facility in the world; satellite data currently identifies over 10,000 flaring locations globally. 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.
Satellite data compiled and analyzed for GGFR’s Global Gas Flaring Tracker Report shows that 139 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas was flared at oil and gas production sites during 2022. The top nine flaring countries continue to be responsible for the vast majority of flaring: Russia, Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Venezuela, the United States, Mexico, Libya, and Nigeria account for nearly three-quarters of global flare volumes and just under half of global oil production.
When associated gas is flared, some of the gas is released unburnt due to inefficient combustion by the flare. Gas flaring is, therefore, a direct source of methane emissions. Methane has a warming potential up to 84 times that of CO2 on a 20-year basis. Methane also has a short atmospheric lifetime and remains in the atmosphere for around 12 years. As a result, reducing methane emissions is the single most important climate action we can undertake in the short-term. More information on the methane emissions released during oil and gas production can be found in our methane explained guide.
Venting occurs when associated gas is released into the atmosphere unburnt. This can happen deliberately during oil and gas processing (venting ‘by design’), due to unplanned upset conditions or as a deliberate alternative to flaring. Gas flaring is visible while gas venting is not.
Gas flaring results in more than 350 million tons of CO2-equivalent emissions every year. Venting is significantly worse than flaring, as unburnt methane emissions have a Global Warming Potential 28 times worse than the same mass of CO2 emissions on a 100-year basis, and over 80 times worse on a 20-year basis. More information on the methane emissions released during oil and gas production can be found in our methane explained guide.
Reducing gas flaring and venting is important because of the large amounts of CO2, methane and other pollutants emitted, which significantly contribute to GHG emissions and climate change. In addition, these industry practices waste a valuable natural resource that should either be conserved or used for productive purposes. In many developing countries where people still do not have access to electricity, the waste of natural resources that could be used to generate power is even more unfortunate.
Unfortunately, there is no single one-size-fits-all solution to gas flaring, as the challenges and reasons for flaring vary considerably between countries. But, in general, what tends to be most effective and impactful is a combination of investment in gas transportation infrastructure, gas pricing mechanisms, warranty of payment, and third-party access combined with policies and regulations that make gas flaring reduction projects more attractive than flaring and venting.
For example, regulations that provide 'priority access' for associated gas over non-associated gas to infrastructure, such as gas pipelines, and users, such as LNG or power plants, can incentivize greater utilization. Other viable incentives can include financial penalties for flaring gas or special tax treatment for associated gas utilization projects.
Financing sources vary depending on the circumstances. However, both upstream operators who own oil and gas production facilities and third parties play a role in financing efforts to capture and utilize associated gas.
The governments of oil-producing countries also play an essential role in promoting this gas value-chain by supporting the necessary public or private investments, offering fiscal incentives to start emission reduction projects, guaranteeing payments to investors, and ensuring routes to domestic or export markets are available.
Investments may be either self-financed by private operators or financed by loans from a variety of financial institutions or funds. More on the financing solutions to reduce flaring and methane emissions can be found here.
Each cubic meter of associated gas flared results in about 2.6 kilograms of CO2 equivalent emissions. With global flaring levels estimated at approximately 139 bcm in 2022, this resulted in about 350 million tons of CO2-equivalent emissions annually. This figure assumes a flare combustion efficiency of 98 percent (i.e. about 2 percent un-combusted gas leaking into the atmosphere); flare efficiency can be significantly lower depending on various conditions such as wind and gas composition, maintenance and operation of the flare gas system and whether the flare is continuously lit.
Global CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion in 2018 was 37 billion tonnes. Flaring emissions of CO2 are estimated to be about 350 million tonnes i.e. about 1 percent 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.
Since flares can be inefficient and typically do not burn all the associated gas, there can be significant methane emissions during gas flaring. Under ideal conditions, the most efficient flares combust about 98 percent of the gas, but some flares operating much less efficiently may combust as little as 80-90 percent of the associated gas. There may also be instances where the flare goes out and the associated gas is vented instead of flared, otherwise known as unlit flaring. While the other gas components, which typically includes ethane, butane, propane etc., make a comparatively negligible contribution to climate change if they are released unburnt, unburnt methane contributes significantly to the overall greenhouse gas emissions. More information on the methane emissions released during oil and gas production can be found in our methane explained guide.
In some flares the hydrocarbons are only partially burnt and some of the 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.
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 over a relatively short period of time. By contrast, CO2 has a very long life in the atmosphere. Reducing black carbon emissions would, therefore, make a significant and rapid contribution to climate change mitigation. Flaring in and near the Arctic is of particular concern because black carbon deposits on the Arctic snow and ice cap severely reduce its reflective power (albedo) and accelerate the melting of the ice and snow.
According to an academic article, in 2013 (latest estimate) gas flaring emissions contributed about 42 percent of the annual mean black carbon surface concentrations in the Arctic.
Yes. The Initiative pertains to routine flaring at oil production facilities, defined as flaring that occurs during the normal production of oil, and in the absence of sufficient facilities to utilize the gas on-site, dispatch it to a market, or re-inject it. The typical situation 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 the following non-routine or safety-related flaring events:
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.
The Initiative asks oil companies and governments to end ongoing routine flaring as soon as possible and no later than by 2030. Many of the projects developed to stop routine flaring are complex and can take considerable time and resources to plan and execute properly.
The ZRF Initiative is designed to prioritize flaring reduction and set a clear target for governments and industry to end routine flaring. GGFR is a partnership of governments and companies working together and with a team of professionals within the World Bank, supporting governments and national oil companies in their efforts to end routine flaring and to meet the 2030 target.
A majority of major oil-producing countries have already endorsed the Initiative and made the commitment to end routine flaring, but for some governments it can take time and dialogue to explain the consequences and nature of the commitment, and many governments need to follow a rigorous due diligence process before committing. Around 60 percent of total global flaring volumes are within government jurisdictions that have endorsed the ZRF Initiative. So this is significant progress, but there are still some large oil-producing countries yet to commit.
All major international oil companies have endorsed the initiative. We’re hopeful others will follow. Typically, companies follow a rigorous due diligence process before committing to the Initiative.
Ending routine flaring by 2030 is a challenging goal, but a necessary one. Flare reduction projects often take considerable planning to be executed effectively but at a time of growing concern for the climate, it is essential that companies and governments take action to achieve "Zero Routine Flaring by 2030".
In line with this, gas flaring volumes have been largely downward from their 2003 peak of 172 billion cubic meters (bcm) to 139 bcm in 2022. In 2015, when the ZRF Initiative was launched, total gas flaring stood at 146 bcm.
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 end it at the 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.
The Initiative does not force governments or oil companies to invest in uneconomic projects. The Initiative aims to stimulate and create the right environment for cooperation between all stakeholders so that solutions are found through appropriate regulation, application of technologies, and financial arrangements.
A desktop study by GGFR in 2018 estimated the cost to end routine flaring is US$100 billion. This estimate is in line with studies from Iraq, Russia, and Nigeria, albeit these studies are few in number, which indicate an average cost of around 6-9 US$/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). It is important to note this estimate does not include revenues from utilization of the gas.
Endorsing governments and oil companies annually report their flaring and progress towards the Initiative. The World Bank will report the same, including the aggregated volumes on this website. This is not to say it is an easy task to obtain accurate data, in part because the volume of most flaring is still estimated rather than metered. In addition, satellite monitoring will continue to provide independent estimates of flaring volumes for every country and operator.
The Initiative is not legally binding, but it establishes a clear public commitment monitored through a variety of means, including government and company reports and satellite observations. Endorsers have repeatedly communicated they take the commitment very seriously.
The Initiative is voluntary and does not include any enforcement measures or penalties. However, its visibility and high global profile encourage continuing commitment to the Initiative.
The World Bank (i) monitors the progress of the endorsers, (ii) continues to promote the Initiative and seek additional commitments, and (iii) supports governments and other stakeholders in their efforts to achieve zero routine flaring, particularly in developing countries. In addition to hosting the GGFR secretariat at its headquarters in Washington, DC, the World Bank is an active GGFR partner, contributing to the trust fund and providing broader support to ensure countries have robust, effective and efficient energy sectors.
One of the benefits of the ZRF initiative is that it helps keep industry focused on critical climate change mitigation efforts and also facilitates cooperation between all stakeholders so that solutions to ending routine gas flaring and venting can be identified and implemented. Governments and oil companies that have endorsed the ZRF initiative commit to annually reporting their flaring data and progress towards ending the practice.
All ZRF endorsing governments and companies commit to self-reporting their flaring data each year. ZRF is a voluntary but public commitment, monitored through both government and company reports and satellite-based estimates. Where flaring data is not self-reported by governments; estimates using GGFR / NOAA / Colorado School of Mines satellite data have been used. By publishing self-reported flaring data and satellite-based estimates on the ZRF website, we make clear which endorsers are making progress and fulfilling their commitment.
Many have regulations with the same objective, but not always in a manner that has proved effective. One of the objectives of this Initiative is to support governments develop effective policies and 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.
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.
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.
Governments and oil companies interested in making the commitment and endorsing the Initiative or learning more about it, please email us with your name and contact information.