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Gas Flaring Declined in 2020, Study Finds


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Gas Flaring Declined in 2020, Study Finds

A new report offers a detailed picture of flaring around the world, with steep declines in some areas and surprising increases in others.



Gas flares in Ughelli, Nigeria, in September.Credit...Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

LAGOS, Nigeria — Gas flaring worldwide decreased by 5 percent in the pandemic year, mostly because of lower demand for oil, according to a recent report from the World Bank.


While the overall drop was expected, the report offered a detailed picture of the flaring activities around the world, with steep declines in some areas, like the United States, and surprising increases in others, notably China.


Flaring occurs when the gas that emerges with crude oil is burned off rather than captured. That burning emits carbon dioxide, a gas that is the main contributor to climate change. According to World Bank officials, flaring adds roughly 400 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions to the atmosphere every year.


According to the report, Russia was responsible for more flaring overall than any other country in 2020, contributing 15 percent of the global total. But within Russia, there were areas of progress. Burning continued to decrease in the Khanty-Mansi region of Siberia, where flaring volumes have dropped by nearly 80 percent over the previous 15 years.



A drilling rig on the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia in 2019.Credit...Alexander Nemenov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


The report, published at the end of April, relied on data collected by two satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and analyzed at the Payne Institute for Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines.


In addition to contributing planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, routine gas flaring can harm the health of people who live near gas sites. It also wastes a potentially useful energy source, a problem that is especially acute in poorer countries.


According to the World Bank report, 700 million people currently lack steady access to energy, and more than 620 million, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa, could still be without reliable power in 2030.


Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer and the biggest gas-flaring country in the sub-Saharan region, has reduced gas burning by 70 percent in the last 15 years, the World Bank report said. That reduction was partly because of projects that have helped the country convert waste gas into liquid fuels for exports.


Recently, though, Nigeria has struggled, with gas flaring volumes rising slightly between 2018 and 2019. A promise to eliminate flaring by 2020 never materialized and two other deadlines, one in 2004 and another in 2008, were also missed. The pandemic has also slowed projects aimed at capturing more gas.


But the main problem, according to Afolabi Elebiju, a corporate lawyer based in Lagos who follows the energy industry, is that under Nigerian law, which is often weakly enforced, unauthorized flaring carries relatively light penalties.

Mr. Elebiju called flaring “a monster” in Nigeria. “The government is thinking, ‘If we drive these guys too hard, they will run away,’” he said, referring to foreign oil companies operating in Nigeria. “But in many other countries where they are forceful, operators are complying, including in their own home countries.”



Source: Gas Flaring Declined in 2020, Study Finds

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