Jul 21, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Gas flaring persists in worrying climate sign

Reproduced from The World Bank; Chart: Axios Visuals

The burning of natural gas at oil production sites rose last year to its highest level since 2009, per newly released World Bank estimates based on satellite data.

Why it matters: Flaring the gas associated with oil production, rather than capturing it, emits lots of greenhouse gas emissions, even though the oil sector has made progress on a per-barrel basis.

The big picture: Flaring rose 3.5% from 2018 to 2019 to reach 150 billion cubic meters, per the World Bank-led Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership, which hopes to end "routine" flaring by 2030.

  • For a sense of scale, 150 bcm is equivalent to the total annual gas consumption of sub-Saharan Africa, the report notes.
  • The increase was largely driven by three countries: the U.S., Venezuela and Russia.

Threat level: "Gas flaring in fragile or conflict-affected countries increased from 2018 to 2019: in Syria by 35% and in Venezuela by 16%, although oil production was flat in Syria and declined by 40% in Venezuela," the report finds.

What's next: There were reasons to think that 2020 would see a reversal of 2019's rise even before the pandemic crisis really took hold.

  • The analysis notes that satellite data show decreases in many countries — including the U.S. — in the first quarter.

The bottom line: "While 2020 is likely to see a decline in global gas flaring, the data suggest that gas flaring continues to be a persistent problem, with solutions remaining difficult or uneconomic in certain countries," the report states.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected with respect to the estimated amount of increased gas flaring from 2018 to 2019.

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