LAST YEAR, enough natural gas to supply 27% of U.S. needs was burned off as waste around the world, according to a new report by the World Bank. Flared natural gas is a by-product of petroleum production and is not generally considered worth capture and sale, the bank adds.
However, the bank estimates the gas could be worth as much as $40 billion if sold on the U.S. market, where natural gas demand is high because of its use as a chemical feedstock and fuel.
Global gas flaring releases about 400 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year, and the practice has remained mostly stable at 150 billion to 170 billion m3 annually over the past 12 years, according to the World Bank report.
To generate the data, the World Bank collaborated with the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration to pinpoint the extent of flaring through close examination of satellite imagery gathered from 400 miles above ground.
"Gas flaring harms the environment and wastes a cleaner source of energy that could generate much needed electricity in poor countries," says Bent Svensson, manager of the World Bank's program to reduce gas flaring. Cutting gas flaring can be costly, however, Svensson notes, adding that alternatives encouraged by the bank include reinjecting natural gas to increase oil production, liquefying it for international shipment, piping it to markets, using it on-site for electricity generation, or distributing it for use in nearby communities.
Svensson urges implementation of an international system of carbon penalties and credits to increase the value of natural gas as a cleaner fuel and to discourage flaring. The World Bank has projects to reduce gas flaring in eight countries.
The report found that the greatest amount of flaring of natural gas takes place in Russia (50.7 billion m3), Nigeria (23.0 billion m3), Iran (11.4 billion m3), and Iraq (8.1 billion m3). The U.S. was not among the top 20 gas-flaring countries, according to the report.
The report is available at www.worldbank.org.