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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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Gas Flaring Is Back With a Vengeance

  • Gas flaring, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, saw a significant increase in 2023, reaching the highest level since 2019.
  • The World Bank's Zero Routine Flaring initiative, endorsed by countries contributing around 60% of global gas flaring, is under threat due to the lack of effort to curb flaring in certain regions.
  • Cryptocurrency companies are exploring opportunities to utilize waste gas from oilfields for crypto mining, offering potential economic benefits from a previously discarded resource.

Within the last few years, a few ground-breaking reports have shown that the level of gas flaring from oil operations worldwide has been far higher than companies had led us to believe. This led several oil majors to make ambitious pledges for flare reduction. While some cut flaring practices significantly, others found ways to reuse waste gas for activities like cryptocurrency mining. However, it seems like old habits die hard, as we saw the highest level of gas flaring last year since 2019, suggesting that the practice is far from coming to an end. 

According to satellite data provided by the World Bank this month, gas flaring rose by 7 percent in 2023, following a decrease the previous year. This contributed to an additional 23 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, equivalent to an extra five million cars on the roads.  In addition to carbon dioxide, gas flaring also emits methane into the atmosphere, which contributes heavily to global warming. The countries that carried out the most gas flaring last year were Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Russia, the United States and Venezuela, contributing 75 percent of the global total. Together, these countries produce around 46 percent of the world's oil, yet they contribute most of the world’s flaring emissions. 

The higher levels of gas flaring in 2023 were attributed to several factors, including increased crude production in some countries and a lack of dedication to gas recovery and use. Addressing the issue, Zubin Bamji, the manager of the World Bank’s Global Flaring and Methane Reduction (GFMR) Partnership stated, “We’re hopeful that this is somewhat of an anomaly and the longer-term trend will be dramatic reductions.” However, others are concerned that several countries are not staying true to their climate pledges or making enough effort to support the global green transition. 

In 2015, the World Bank introduced an initiative for Zero Routine Flaring by 2030. The ZRF initiative has been endorsed by countries contributing around 60 percent of total global gas flaring. Cutting flaring activities is viewed as an easy win, as it is one of the simplest ways to reduce emissions in oil operations. However, last year marked the highest level of gas flaring seen since 2019’s decade high. The recent uptick in flaring activities puts this aim under threat, with the lack of effort to curb flaring in certain regions making it clear that some countries are not committed to the pledge. 

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While many companies continue with conventional flaring practices, there is huge potential to earn money from waste gas. The potential market value of the gas flared in 2023 was between $9 billion and $48 billion. Several oil and gas companies are now looking to cryptocurrency companies to buy up their waste gas, establishing crypto mining operations on oilfields to use waste energy to mine digital currencies. 

In May, a report showed that the oil and gas equipment being used to cut methane emissions is making it difficult for scientists to accurately detect greenhouse gas emissions, leading them to rely heavily on the data provided by fossil fuel companies. Some companies have begun to use enclosed combustors, which work effectively the same way as flares, although the flame is hidden. Tim Doty, a former regulator at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, explained, “Enclosed combustors are basically a flare with an internal flare tip that you don’t see. Enclosed flaring is still flaring. It’s just different infrastructure that they’re allowing. Enclosed flaring is, in truth, probably less efficient than a typical flare. It’s better than venting but going from a flare to an enclosed flare or a vapour combustor is not an improvement in reducing emissions.”

Researchers detect flaring using satellites, comparing the heat signatures with bright spots of light visible from space to understand where flaring activities occur. However, it seems satellites are not picking up instances of enclosed flaring, making it harder to know which companies are carrying out the practice. At present, the volumes from enclosed flares are small, but regulators must track and manage the trend to ensure that oil companies do not simply replace one polluting activity with another. 

Bringing an end to routine gas flaring is viewed as an easy way to cut emissions from oil operations without reducing production, which has led several countries to commit to the World Bank’s Zero Routine Flaring initiative. However, despite the decrease in flaring activities seen in recent years, 2023 saw the highest rate of flaring in four years, suggesting that some countries are not doing enough to curb the practice. Further, a shift to enclosed combustor technology could prevent researchers from tracking emissions, meaning that regulators must manage alternative flaring technologies to ensure that emissions are not simply hidden from sight. 

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Glen Kleespies on July 01 2024 said:
    The answer is to allow new pipelines. Currently, this is nearly impossible. They would sell their gas if they could.
  • Allen P on July 02 2024 said:
    Having grown up and lived along Houston , Texas ship channel that is dotted with petrochemical refineries, and have family & friends who worked in those refineries, flaring during a shutdown maintenance is a common and essential occurrence. I grew up in my parent's house feeling the rumble in the walls and floors of a refinery in Channelview, Texas flaring off product. I was much more concerned with the incinerator in Deer Park, Texas that incinerated radioactive waste. Yes, you heard me right.
    I have felt the percussion of many refinery explosions including Phillips 66 along the Houston Ship Channel. The water in the YMCA swimming pool I was cleaning jumped up two feet straight up from the explosion. Let's encourage and make it easier for industry to performed needed and possibly life saving maintenance, which includes "shutting down" a refinery unit. That product has to go somewhere and flaring it off is the best option.

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