Natural Gas Flaring Emits as Much CO2 as 77 Million Cars, Wastes 5% of World Production

natural gas flare flaring photo
Photo: Ken Doerr, Flickr, CC
400 Million Metric Tons of CO2 are Emitted... Every Year
The world consumption of natural gas is enormous (2007's peak was at 108 trillion cubic feet, according to the USEIA). Burning it in power plants and in heating systems is already bad enough because it releases CO2 in the atmosphere (though at least it's better than coal), but a lot of natural gas is also intentionally flared without providing any benefit ("flaring" means that the gas is simply burned on-site rather than being transported elsewhere to be used for something productive). A new GE study shows that at least 5% of all natural gas is wasted by flaring. It's a low-hanging fruit that we should focus on.natural gas flare flaring photo
Photo: Ken Doerr, Flickr, CC

Gas flaring emits 400 million metric tons of CO2 annually, the same as 77 million automobiles, without producing useful heat or electricity. Worldwide, billions of cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas are wasted annually, typically as a by-product of oil extraction.

The study finds that the technologies required for a solution exist today. Depending on region, these may include power generation, gas re-injection (for enhanced oil recovery, gathering and processing), pipeline development and distributed energy solutions. Nearly $20 billion in wasted natural gas could be used to generate reliable, affordable electricity and yield billions of dollars per year in increased global economic output. (source)

Equivalent to 30% of Europe and 23% of USA's Consumption
Low natural gas prices are further encouraging flaring. Governments around the world should cooperate on this problem, as it might be hard for local governments, especially in poorer countries, to make the capital investments to stop flaring. But once a system is in place, it should easily pay for itself and allow any foreign investments to be repaid.

Fixing this is more about political will than about money.

natural gas flaring photo
Photo: Sirdle, Flickr, CC
See also: Uganda: Anything But Gas Flaring, Please
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Tags: Energy Efficiency | Less Is More


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