We’ve all seen it, at least in pictures: the tall smokestacks dotting producing oil fields, spewing fingers of flame into the air. It’s known as associated gas flaring, and if it seems economically wasteful and environmentally nuts, well it is. CAP’s Tom Kenworthy has the story.
A new report from GE Energy highlights the problem, and calls for renewed efforts across the globe to combat it.
How big is the problem? How much gas gets flared off? What’s the impact in terms of carbon pollution? The answers: Still plenty big, despite some progress in recent years; a lot; and pretty significant.
According to GE, 150 billion cubic meters of gas are flared each year, much of it in the Mideast, Africa, and Russia. That 150 billion cubic meters is about equal to all the gas consumed yearly in U.S. homes, and about a quarter of total U.S. annual use. The climate impact is equivalent to the emissions of 77 million cars, about 1/3 of the total U.S. fleet; or 2% of total worldwide emissions from energy sources; or the output of 125 medium-sized coal-fired electric plants.
According to GE, the technology is available to put this wasted gas to more productive use and is increasingly being installed. Solutions include using the gas to generate power, re-injecting gas to recover more oil, and shipping it to markets via pipelines. The policy framework to facilitate better practices is also no big secret.
But to significantly advance the progress made in recent years – a reduction in flaring of about 12 percent since 2005 – “will require a major, coordinated effort from central and regional governments, oil and gas producers, technology providers, and the international community” according to the GE report.
What is needed, says GE, is a mix of “punitive and incentive based approaches” depending on local and regional circumstances, including financial initiatives to “make it economically feasible to gather the supply and foster gas use.”
The report targets four strategies:
- emphasize local solutions, including better education on the financial benefits and the creation of small-scale businesses to operate distributed energy and gas collection systems;
- expand financing opportunities, including the Clean Development Mechanism created under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change;
- encourage more effective national regulation and legislation, including price and royalty reforms
- negotiate a new international agreement devoted to the flaring problem
Concludes GE: “Gas flaring reduction has the potential to be one of the great energy and environmental success stories, and it has the potential to be achieved within the next five years.”
— Guest Blogger Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.