Gas flaring is the burning of natural gas associated with oil extraction. It is a 160-year-old industry practice that contributes to climate change, producing more than 350 million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions every year, alongside un-combusted methane and black carbon emissions. Gas flaring also wastes a valuable natural resource that could provide energy to millions of people in low-and middle-income countries. The practice continues to this day because of a variety of technical, regulatory, and/or economic constraints.
For the first time in five years, global gas flaring increased. Newly released estimates from satellite data show a 3% increase in 2018 to 145 billion cubic meters (bcm), which is equivalent to the total annual gas consumption of Central and South America.
So, how do we account for this increase? In the United States, gas flaring rose almost 50% from 2017 to 2018 due to oil production increasing by 33%. Meanwhile, countries struggling with political unrest and conflict experienced an increase in gas flaring. For example, in Venezuela, gas flaring soared even as oil production declined sharply, indicating a state in crisis, similar to trends seen previously in Syria and Yemen.
While we cannot conclude too much from year-on-year changes in flaring, the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) will continue to monitor trends closely and work to reverse the uptick seen in 2018. With over 80 governments, oil companies and development institutions committed to a World Bank initiative to end routine flaring by 2030, we have a solid foundation to end routine flaring in ten years. We must accelerate efforts and invest in the necessary infrastructure, technology, and markets to achieve this goal.