The dramatic boom in shale gas and shale oil production is increasing flaring of waste gas at drilling operations, a practice that emits large amounts of carbon dioxide pollution. According to a World Bank official, gas flaring bumped up by 4.1% in 2011 — roughly totaling the gas demand from Denmark.
The increase in carbon-intensive flaring comes after a period of decline globally since 2006. The World Bank estimates that world-wide flaring spews yearly emissions equal to the carbon output of France. Reuters broke the news about the upward trend:
The increase is mostly due to the rise in shale oil exploration in North Dakota, propelling the United States into the top 10 gas flaring countries along with Russia, Nigeria and Iraq.
The preliminary data — which will be released in detail later in May — shows that global gas flaring crept up to around 140 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2011, up from 134 bcm the previous year.
If this waste were to take place within the European Union’s carbon emissions trading scheme, the flaring would cost some 2.5 billion euros ($3.30 billion) at current market value of 7 euros per metric ton of CO2.
And, of course, the actual damage to health and well-being from CO2 is well over 10 times that. The only reason CO2 prices are so low are that Europe is in recession and there is a global deal to reduce emissions to levels that would not destroy the wood will climate.
The amount of gas being flared in North Dakota alone is stunning. According to a recent New York Times piece, shale oil producers in the state burn 100 million cubic feet of natural gas daily — “enough energy to heat half a million homes for a day.”
This is adding to an already significant problem. According to estimates from GE, gas flaring makes up about 2% of total global carbon emissions.
Last spring, GE issued a report saying that halting gas flaring “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.” The company recommends better financial incentives and global agreements to give oil companies a reason to capture the gas and it more efficiently.
In early April, a group of investors worth $500 billion in assets sent a letter to the largest shale oil producers, saying they “are concerned that excessive flaring, because of its impact on air quality and climate change, poses significant risks for the companies involved, and for the industry at large, ultimately threatening the industry’s license to operate.”