Gas Flaring – a Multi-billion Dollar Energy Waste Affecting the World Environment Badly

Gas Flaring

Credit: Dirk Ingo Franke / CC BY-SA 2.0

As per the latest studies, nearly 3.5% (140 billion cubic meters of natural gas) of the world’s natural gas supply is wastefully burned. To quantify this in other words – this amount of gas is enough to provide the combined annual natural gas consumption of Germany and France.

This is not only the waste of natural valuable resource but is affecting the world environment severely as almost 300 million tons of CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere. This flaring is very inefficient due to many ambient factors and the composition of the flare stream, flow rate of flare gases etc. It is not a very controlled industrial process. It also emits black carbon and other pollutants. Russia, Iraq, and Nigeria recently have been mentioned to be the highest gas flaring countries.

A gas flare, also known as a flare stack is primarily a gas combustion equipment / device used in many industries – petroleum refineries, chemical plants, natural gas processing plants as well as at oil or gas production sites having oil wells, gas wells, offshore oil and gas rigs etc. One very important reason for the existence / necessity of these flare stacks is “protection against the dangers of over-pressuring industrial plant equipment”. These flare stacks are also often used for the planned combustion of gasses.

Flaring is very common in oil and gas fields since ages. The producers believe that it is faster and cheaper to burn natural gas than to capture and use it. This is due to the lack of cost-effective pipelines and infrastructure to economically transport the gas to market and sell it. But official data on the extent of the practice are scary and has very dangerous effects on human health as well as assists in climate change.

World Bank has taken a serious cognizance of this. As gas flaring impacts the economics of the nation in terms of loss of funds and revenue. A Recent study of gas flare in Nigeria is an eye-opening example of the economic effects. Oil producers in Nigeria flare approximately 2.5 billion cubic feet of gas every day and the loss of revenue, estimated is nearly 2.5 billion US dollars yearly. This is a direct revenue loss but the impact on the economy due to the deterioration of the environment and the dangerous effects it has on the human health, plants and animals are yet to be quantified in terms of monitory loss. The “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” initiative (the Initiative), introduced by the World Bank, to bring together governments, oil companies, and development institutions which recognize the hazards of routine flaring.

It also says flaring for safety reasons or non-routine flaring, which should be minimized by adopting the necessary corrective measures. Routine flaring of gas is defined as “flaring during normal oil production operations in the absence of sufficient facilities or infrastructure”. Any financial institutions and oil producing countries have endorsed this “initiative”.

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