When I was growing up in Albania in the mid-80s, gas flares were a constant and silent backdrop to our holidays by the seashore. The fiery plumes would shimmer in the early morning summer light while we squeezed like sardines into the bus that would take up to the beach. At night, from our cabin, they looked like rows of giant torches in the distance. As a child, I was mesmerized by the way the flames danced and shimmered from the tall chimneys in clouds of black curling smoke. I was told that the oil wells were on fire and eventually the flares burned themselves out. I didn’t ask many questions then; in communism asking questions was discouraged and could get one in trouble.
It’s spring in Washington during a pivotal year in development. Thousands of government officials, journalists, civil society representatives, academics, and CEOs are arriving for the Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund the week of April 13.
It’s one of the last such gatherings before decisions are made on the world’s development priorities and goals over the next 15 years – and how to finance them. In fact, the only item on the April 18 agenda of the Development Committee concerns these post-2015 goals and financing for development.
Q: As the new Director for the Energy and Extractives Global Practice at the World Bank, can you tell us about the greatest challenges you face in Extractives?
A: Extractive industries are complex and often risky, but when managed well they can foster transformative development in those countries that most need it. Extractives play a dominant role in 81 countries whose economies together account for a quarter of world GDP. These 81 countries also represent half of the world’s population and nearly 70 percent of those in extreme poverty. Given the need of these countries, a focus on natural resource management is important, but we must work diligently to mitigate the risks and improve governance structures so that the wealth generated from these activities benefits the poor. Similarly, a cornerstone of all the work we do is to mitigate the social and environmental impacts of extractives projects so that they benefit neighboring communities as well as broader economic growth. We also look forward to strengthening our work to improve governance of the extractive industries through efforts like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and minimizing the environmental footprint of projects by reducing routine gas flaring (Global Gas Flaring Reduction, GGFR).
At the 10th anniversary of the Global Gas Flaring Reduction (GGFR) Partnership in London yesterday, the oil company Rosneft received an award for its Associated Gas Recovery Project on the Komsomolskoye oil field, located on the tundra in the heart of Russia over 3,000 kilometers east of Moscow. It’s gratifying to see that Rosneft is getting recognition for its hard work because this project is important not only in reducing flaring and greenhouse gas emissions, but also for the positive impact it is having on the local environment surrounding oil fields and for making better use of precious resources.
Ten years ago, the World Bank and the government of Norway launched an ambitious project to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from a source few people thought much about. If you’ve driven past oil fields at night, you’ve seen the flames from gas flaring. But you might not have realized just how much greenhouse gas was being pumped into the dark – and how much of a natural energy resource was being wasted in the process.
Half a dozen major oil companies joined us in 2002 in creating the public-private Global Gas Flaring Reduction partnership, and we began working together to reduce the flaring. More than 30 government and industry partners are on board today.
Together, we have achieved a great deal in just the first decade.
Basrah, Iraq: June 2011
I learn on Friday that our small World Bank energy team has received permission and security clearance to visit a production site within Iraq’s giant Rumaila Oil field southwest of the city the next afternoon. I am very excited about the visit. Rumaila is considered to be the fourth largest oil field in the world and produces over 1 million barrels of oil daily from several production batteries.
That night in the UK compound on the Basrah COB (Contingency Operating Base), our planning for Saturday’s field trips is cut short by a siren announcing an incoming rocket attack. I scurry to my bomb-proof pod and have bolted the heavily reinforced door just as I hear the thud-thud of ordnance landing. The attack was not directed at our space and was very short-lived. Nonetheless, it motivates me to properly use the body armor that has been assigned to me for the next day.
As planned, on Saturday I attend a short mission security briefing which details our route and my responsibilities should an incident occur. That afternoon, our convoy of four specially equipped vehicles begins an hour–long trek to the production zone along what I believe to be Highway 6. This is the road to Kuwait made famous by operation Desert Storm in 1990. Skeletons of burned-out military vehicles still appear periodically along the edges of what otherwise is a flat and desolate 30 kilometers of divided highway.