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Gas flaring declined by 3 percent in 2022 – World Bank

A slight reduction in the volumes of gas flared last year offers some small measure of progress, the World Bank said in a new report. However, much deeper reductions are needed.

Offshore oil rig or production platform in the South China Sea, Malaysia (Photo credit: Adobe Stock/corlaffra)

Global gas flaring dipped by 3 percent in 2022, a small glimmer of progress after years in which there has been little, according to a new report from the World Bank.

“Despite this welcome reduction, greater and sustained efforts are needed to end this wasteful and polluting practice,” Zubin Bamji, a programme manager at the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership, said in a statement.

Gas flaring declined to 139 billion cubic meters (bcm) last year, down from 144 bcm in 2021. That occurred even as oil production increased by 5 percent. This “decoupling of gas flaring and oil production is notable,” leading to a decline in flare intensity, the World Bank said.

Flaring worldwide is overwhelmingly occurring in a small number of places, with the top nine countries accounting for 74 percent of flaring volumes. Those countries are Russia, Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Venezuela, the United States, Mexico, Libya, and Nigeria.

The biggest reductions came from Nigeria, which accounted for a 1.3 bcm decline in the volume of gas flared, a 20 percent reduction from 2021 levels. However, much of those declines were the result of a 14 percent drop off in oil production. Mexico also made up a sizable reduction in gas flaring, due to the shutting-in of wells with high gas-to-oil ratios, the report, published on Wednesday, said.

The United States saw a 9 percent reduction in flaring last year, even as oil production increased. The reductions are largely the result of the industry capturing and marketing a higher percentage of associated gas that is otherwise flared. The World Bank cited these trends as evidence of progress.

“The United States demonstrates the results that can be achieved when private companies (upstream, midstream, and downstream) seek to capitalize on gas market opportunities and are supported by strong regulation on flaring,” the report said.

However, the improvement is modest, and could be overstated. Flares are assumed to work at 98 percent efficiency, limiting the amount of methane — an extremely potent greenhouse gas — that escapes into the atmosphere. But recent research suggests that flares combust methane with much less efficiency in the real world.

A 2022 paper found that flares observed may be only working at 91 percent efficiency. The difference may seem small, but the result is a fivefold increase in methane emissions in the U.S. than is commonly thought, and it accounts for 4 to 10 percent of the total volume of methane emitted by the oil and gas industry in the country.

The same problem might be true elsewhere. “If these findings are widespread across industry, the true scale of the contribution of gas flaring to methane emissions could be grossly underestimated,” the World Bank warned. “Further research is needed to test both the destruction efficiency and the prevalence of unlit flares globally.”

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