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Expand chart

Data: The World Bank; Chart: Axios Visuals

Oil producers around the world wasted as much natural gas in 2018 as South and Central America use in an entire year, according to new data from the World Bank.

Driving the news: Intentionally discarding natural gas by burning it off as carbon dioxide, a practice called “flaring,” increased 3% to 145 billion cubic meters last year compared to 2017. In the U.S., flaring rose by nearly 50%, driven by booming oil production and a relative lack of infrastructure to contain associated natural gas.

Why it matters: For both climate and business purposes flaring contributes to climate change and wastes a product that could be sold commercially.

  • The practice of flaring contributes to climate change by emitting CO2. It is a better option compared to venting though. That's another, less common industry practice of sending methane — the primary component of natural gas — straight into the atmosphere. Methane's short-term warming impact on the planet is far greater than that of CO2.
  • From a business perspective, companies are wasting a sellable product that’s poised to become the world’s dominant energy source. World Bank experts and environmentalists argue gas flaring is an especially needless contribution to climate change.

Where it stands: As the accompanying chart shows, the U.S. ranks fourth for how much natural gas it is wasting while producing oil, behind Russia, Iraq and Iran. Trends like these are among the starkest negative environmental consequences of America's oil and gas boom, which has made the U.S. the largest producer of both in the world.

But, but, but: Despite the overall increase, the flaring intensity in the U.S.— the volume of gas flared per barrel of oil produced — remains very low (lower than the 3 others on the chart).

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Alabama trying to use COVID relief funds to expand prisons

Inside the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Ala., in 2018. Photo: Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images

Alabama state lawmakers are trying to funnel up to $400 million of the state's American Rescue Plan funds to pay for a $1.3 billion plan to build and renovate prisons across the state, the Associated Press reports.

Why it matters: Diverting dollars from the COVID-relief package, passed in March, is prompting criticism over misuse.

2 hours ago - World

Jake Sullivan discussed human rights and Yemen with Saudi crown prince

MBS in 2018. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed efforts to end the war in Yemen, the de-escalation of regional tensions with Iran, and Saudi Arabia's human rights record in their meeting on Monday, a senior U.S. official told Axios.

Why it matters: This was Sullivan's first trip to the Middle East since taking up his post in January, and he was the most senior visitor to the kingdom so far from the Biden administration, which has kept the crown prince at arm's length over his roles in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Top Pentagon officials contradict Biden on Afghanistan advice

Photo: Carolone Brehman/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Top military leaders confirmed in a Senate hearing Tuesday they recommended earlier this year that the U.S. keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and that they believed withdrawing those forces would lead to the collapse of the Afghan military.

Why it matters: Biden denied last month that his top military advisers wanted troops to remain in Afghanistan, telling ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "No one said that to me that I can recall."