|Estimates of flaring from the analysis of satellite imagery. Click to enlarge. Source: NOAA|
A satellite imagery study by the World Bank in collaboration with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicates that despite efforts to reduce the practice, global gas flaring has remained fairly stable over the last 15 years. The satellite data suggests a slight increase over the past few years, with an estimated 168 billion cubic meters (BCM) flared in 2006.
In 2006, the estimated global gas flaring volume of 168 BCM was roughly equivalent to 27% of the natural gas consumption of the USA (619.7 BCM, according to BP Statistical Review of Energy) with the associated loading of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Gas flaring reduction is a concrete and relevant contribution to climate change mitigation and the transition to a low-carbon economy. Oil-producing countries and companies should step up efforts in reducing flaring.—Somit Varma, Director of the World Bank-IFC’s Oil, Gas, Mining, and Chemicals Department
|Gas flaring on an off-shore rig.|
Gas flaring is a widely used practice to dispose of the gas (mostly methane) that is a co-product of petroleum production in areas where there is no infrastructure to make use of the gas—e.g., for re-injection into the ground or for the production of liquefied natural gas for long-distance shipment.
Gas flaring is widely recognized as a waste of energy and an added load of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. It is, however, preferred to the companion process of venting: the release of gas without combustion. Venting is not only dangerous, but releases gases with higher global warming potential.
Reporting of flaring is voluntary, and there has been no independent method for estimating national and global flaring volumes. The purpose of the World Bank-chartered study was to investigate the use of earth observation satellite data for the detection of gas flaring and estimation of gas flaring volumes.
|Top 20 Gas Flarers in 2004|
|Official Data||Imagery Analysis|
|10||Eq. Guinea||3.6||Saudi Arabia||3.0|
The new satellite imagery, commissioned by the Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction (GGFR) public-private partnership, is showing that some countries are burning off more gas than what was initially reported.
The imagery has also reshuffled who are the top 20 gas-flaring nations, compared to previous official figures from 2004.
With a very significant increase in flaring volume according to the imagery analysis, Russia has displaced Nigeria as the top flarer. New on the list are China, Oman, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
To better comprehend which countries were reducing their flaring, and where flaring was increasing, NOAA scientists looked at satellite imagery extending from 1995 to 2006, and created color-coded, time-phased composite images that produced a new list of the top 20 flarers.
Because most gas flaring occurs outside urban areas, NOAA scientists were able to pinpoint burn-offs and convert their light intensity to measurable quantities of pollution, primarily from carbon dioxide.
To ensure precise correlations, only nighttime photos under cloud-free conditions were analyzed.
Gas flaring harms the environment and wastes a cleaner source of energy that could generate much needed electricity in poor countries. The study’s estimates are a good additional source of information but satellite imagery has its limitations and uncertainties that we are working with the scientists to reduce.—Bent Svensson, Manager of the Bank’s GGFR partnership
These sources of error and uncertainty include variations in flare efficiency, mis-identification of flares, non-continuous sampling, and environmental effects like snow reflection.
Nigeria, which for years was the No. 1 flarer, has been gradually reducing its output with the help of the GGFR. The partnership helped put together that West African country’s Kwale flaring reduction project—the first and biggest from Africa to be registered under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism.
Reducing flaring can be costly, and in a high oil price environment, oil development projects are highest on the list of the producing countries’ capital investment projects. In recent years, renewed efforts have been made to eliminate flaring, such as re-injecting natural gas into the ground to boost oil production, liquefying it for shipment to international markets, transporting it to markets via pipelines, or using it on site for generation of electricity or for distribution to nearby communities. Carbon credits also encourage those countries to undertake gas flaring reduction projects.
If they’re getting a 30 percent return on petroleum production and only 10 percent on natural gas after infrastructure costs, you know what they’re going to do. You have to balance them out.—Bent Svensson
The GGFR partnership has grown to 14 oil-producing nations—including Nigeria but not Russia— that are responsible for about 70% of flaring worldwide. Gabon, Nigeria’s West African neighbor in the petroleum-rich Gulf of Guinea, will officially become the newest GGFR partner in the coming weeks. The partnership also includes 10 major oil companies.
GGFR doesn’t directly invest in projects, but it brings the countries and companies together to work on reducing barriers to gas flaring reduction. These barriers, particularly in developing countries, include: lack of effective regulatory frameworks and access to financing, insufficient infrastructure and poor access to local and international energy markets.
GGFR has undertaken gas-flaring reduction projects in eight countries, and a majority of GGFR partners have endorsed a global standard for flaring reduction. The partnership is assisting Algeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, and Qatar to meet target dates for zero or minimum flaring.
Collectively, GGFR projects underway will potentially eliminate some 32 million tons of greenhouse gases by 2012.