Natural gas flaring at oil sites around the world is on the up, cutting the industry’s costs but damaging the climate

The view of the 12 Pipestill at sundown at BP's Whiting Refinery outside of Chicago, USA (Pic: BP/Flickr)
The view of the 12 Pipestill at sundown at BP’s Whiting Refinery outside of Chicago, USA (Pic: BP/Flickr)

Gas flaring figures are an indictment of the global oil and gas industry.

In 2015, 147 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas was flared at oil production sites around the world – up from 145bcm in 2014 and 141bcm in 2013.

That’s a waste of energy on a massive scale: according to the World Bank, if the gas flared was used for power generation it would be more than enough to provide the current annual electricity consumption of the whole of Africa.

Oil producers often prefer to burn off gas associated with oil extraction activities rather than invest capital in pipes and pumping stations to transport the gas to consumers.

Gas flaring is also a significant factor driving global warming. More than 16,000 gas flares at oil production sites around the world result in about 350 million tons of climate-changing CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere every year. The flares from numerous shale oil wells in the US can be seen from space.

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The World Bank says flaring in northern areas of the globe is also a…