By Ndubuisi Francis
Estimates from satellite data indicate that global gas flaring increased to levels not seen in more than a decade, to 150 billion cubic metres (bcm), or an equivalent to the total annual gas consumption of sub-Saharan Africa.
The data was released by the World Bank-managed Global Gas Flaring Reduction partnership (GGFR), which comprises governments, oil companies, and international institutions working to end routine gas flaring at oil production sites around the world.
The data shows that the 3 per cent rise, from 145 billion cubic metres (bcm) in 2018 to 150 bcm in 2019, was mainly due to increases in three countries, including the United States of America (up by 23 per cent), Venezuela (up by 16 per cent), and Russia (up by 9 per cent).
Gas flaring in fragile or conflict-affected countries like Syria increased between 2018 and 2019 by 35 per cent and in Venezuela by 16 per cent, despite oil production flattening in Syria and declining by 40 per cent in Venezuela.
In April 2015, chief executives from major oil companies and senior government officials from several oil-producing countries had met in the United States of America in a move to end the practice of routine gas flaring at oil production sites globally latest by 2030.
But Nigeria, then second largest gas flaring record in the world after Russia, was criticised by civil society organisations for not being one of the nine countries which initially endorsed the “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” initiative at the US’ forum, despite being a leading gas-flaring nation.
However, records show that in spite of being one of the 10 top gas-flaring nations in the world, the percentage of gas flared in Nigeria has been decreasing since 2002, standing at 10 per cent in 2018.
In terms of volume of gas flared, the country stood at 7.4 billion cubic feet in the same year.
Gas flaring, the burning of natural gas associated with oil extraction, takes place because of technical, regulatory, and/or economic constraints.
It results in more than 400 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions every year and wastes a valuable resource, with harmful impacts to the environment from un-combusted methane and black carbon emissions.
Speaking on the latest global data released by the the World Bank-managed GGFR, Christopher Sheldon, Practice Manager in the Energy & Extractives Global Practice of the Bank, said: “Our data suggests that gas flaring continues to be a persistent problem, with solutions remaining difficult or uneconomic in certain countries.
“The current COVID-19 pandemic and crisis brings additional challenges, with sustainability and climate concerns potentially sidelined. We must reverse this worrying trend and end routine gas flaring once and for all.”
Currently, the top four gas-flaring countries — Russia, Iraq, the United States and Iran — continue to account for almost half (45 per cent) of all global gas flaring, for three consecutive years running (2017-2019).
When looking at all oil-producing countries, excluding the top four, gas flaring declined by 9 bcm (or 10 per cent) from 2012 to 2019.
In the first quarter of 2020, global gas flaring fell by 10 per cent, with declines across most of the top 30 gas flaring countries.
According to the Programme Manager of the World Bank-managed GGFR Trust Fund, Zubin Bamji, “The World Bank and GGFR are committed to working with governments and industry to end this ‘sticky’ problem. We are working in many of the highest gas flaring countries in the world, helping them develop policies, regulations and practices to end routine flaring.
“At the same time, we are garnering more commitments from governments and companies to end routine flaring through the Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 initiative.
“Now over 80 governments and companies, accounting for over half of the world’s routine flaring, have pledged to end this 160-year-old practice.”
GGFR, in partnership with the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Colorado School of Mines, has developed global gas flaring estimates based upon observations from a satellite launched in 2012.
The advanced sensors of this satellite detect the heat emitted by gas flares as infrared emissions at global upstream oil and gas facilities.
A new and improved web-based application will map global gas flaring data in a reliable, standardized way, and will be publicly available in 2022, with the support of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative.