Global Gas Flaring Surges in 2023 Despite Efforts to Curb Methane Emissions


Gas flaring, a process where oil and gas companies burn off excess gas during oil extraction, reached its highest level since 2019 last year, counteracting international efforts to reduce this polluting practice.

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Increased Flaring Despite Regulations
Data from the World Bank reveals that gas flaring rose by 7% in 2023, reversing a previous decline. This surge in flaring resulted in additional emissions equivalent to 23 million tonnes of CO2, comparable to adding about 5 million cars to the roads. Gas flaring emits greenhouse gases, including black carbon and methane, with methane being 80 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year period.

The primary contributors to global flaring in 2023 were Russia, Iran, Iraq, and the United States, with just nine countries responsible for 75% of global flaring.

Reasons for Increased Flaring
The intensity of gas flaring also increased, particularly in countries like Iran and Libya, where higher oil production was coupled with insufficient investment in gas recovery and utilization. Conflict-affected regions, such as Syria, also saw high flaring intensity due to operational challenges.

Industry Perspectives and Initiatives
Despite the increase in flaring, Zubin Bamji, manager of the World Bank’s Global Flaring and Methane Reduction Partnership, expressed hope that this trend is an anomaly and that long-term reductions will prevail. The decoupling trend between oil production and gas flaring since the late 1990s supports this optimism.

Effective methods to minimize flaring include reinjecting gas back into the earth or capturing it for use. If captured gas were utilized, it could potentially double electricity supplies in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Demetrios Papathanasiou, the World Bank’s energy and extractives global practice director.

Challenges and Regulatory Efforts
The World Bank’s report indicates that current global initiatives to eliminate flaring are insufficient. About 60% of global flaring operators have endorsed the World Bank’s Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 initiative, and 155 countries have signed the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions. However, enforcement and substantial action remain lacking.

New regulations in the US, Canada, and the EU aim to reduce methane emissions, but these policies require time to implement and enforce. The EU’s Methane Strategy includes a transparency requirement on gas imports to penalize flaring and venting.

Industry Self-Policing and Certification
In the US, third-party gas certification companies monitor methane emissions and label gas as “responsibly sourced,” although there is no standard for methane leak reduction. Research by Earthworks and OCI found that these certifications often rely on unreliable technology and may have conflicts of interest.

While regulation is essential, it must be monitored and enforced by governments. Current technology and practical limitations make comprehensive oversight challenging. As OCI’s Lorne Stockman emphasized, the most effective way to prevent methane emissions is to keep the gas in the ground.

Reporting by Daisy Clague; editing by Megan Rowling.

In 2023, gas flaring from oil production surged to its highest level since 2019, counteracting international efforts to reduce emissions. The World Bank reported a 7% increase in flaring, resulting in emissions equivalent to 23 million tonnes of CO2. Major flaring contributors included Russia, Iran, Iraq, and the US. Despite regulatory initiatives, significant actions and enforcement are needed. Self-policing by the industry through third-party certifications lacks standardized criteria and reliability. Comprehensive regulation and monitoring by governments are crucial to effectively curb methane emissions.

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