Report reveals waste gas problem on rise
LONDON — The U.S. shale energy boom is fuelling a rise in the burning of waste gas after years of decline, a world banks ource said ahead of the release of new data, giving environmentalists more ammunition against the industry.
Global gas flaring crept up by around 2 billion cubic metres (bcm) in 2011, the first rise since 2008, preliminary data from the World Bank shows.
The increase is mostly due to the rise in shale oil exploration in North Dakota, propelling the U.S. into the top 10 gas flaring countries along with Russia, Nigeria and Iraq.
Preliminary data — to be released in detail later in May — shows that global gas flaring crept up to around 140 bcm in 2011, up from 138 bcm in 2010.
Flaring is used to eliminate gas at mineral-exploration sites, and is released via pressure-relief valves to ease the strain on equipment.
“The challenge in North Dakota is that there is a lot of initial exploration and production going on, and often some flaring is necessary at that stage,” the source at the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) said.
“We are hopeful that when the full data is released, both policy-makers and companies in North Dakota will pay more attention to this issue and take the necessary steps to minimize flaring.”
The data will draw further criticism to the industry, which some activists already condemn on environmental grounds.
“Environmental regulations to stop flaring are taking a real kick in the teeth because the financial crisis has put the emphasis on increasing competitiveness, while anything that is seen as diminishing competitiveness is not getting any political traction,” Charlie Kronick, senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace, said.
Britain’s annual gas consumption is just under 100 bcm, and Norway’s yearly production just above that — which makes the 140 bcm flared globally over a third more than Europe’s top consumer and producer, respectively.
In current market terms, 140 bcm of gas would be worth over $100 billion in barrels of oil equivalent.
“It is key to show governments that there is a win-win solution — in many cases you’re saving the gas and putting it to a positive use” — Michael Farina
Gas flaring has fallen more than 20 bcm since 2006 — despite a slight increase between 2008/2009— but the rise in 2011 indicates that companies and countries must continue to scale up their efforts to reduce global flaring, the GGFR said.
Despite massive oil and gas reserves, many top flaring countries suffer from chronic power shortages and stagnating gas export volumes which experts say could be addressed if they used the gas instead of burning it.
“It is key to show producers and governments that there is a win-win solution — in many cases you’re saving the gas and putting it to a positive use,” Michael Farina of U.S. energy engineering group GE Energy said.