WASHINGTON - A quantity of natural gas greater than one-quarter of the natural gas consumed in the United States is being sent up in flames each year, according to a recent report. The World Bank announced that it had commissioned the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to perform a global survey of natural gas flaring using satellite observations. The survey spanned a twelve-year period, from 1995 through 2006, and found that natural gas flaring ranged from 150 to 170 billion cubic meters each year. In 2006, roughly 170 billion cubic meters, or nearly five trillion cubic feet, was flared, an amount equal to 5.5 percent of global production or 27 percent of the annual U.S. consumption of natural gas.

Natural gas is often released during oil production and processing, and it is flared to dispose of it. Oil producers flare the gas rather than sell it because of the lack of natural gas infrastructure or markets in the areas where oil is produced. The gas is flared for safety reasons, plus the greenhouse gas impact of the natural gas is lowered by burning it.

The World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction (GGFR) partnership aims to encourage a reduction in flaring by means such as re-injecting the natural gas into the oil reservoir, using it onsite for power generation, piping it to nearby markets, or liquefying it for shipment to distant markets. According to the World Bank, the natural gas flared each year would be worth about $40 billion in the United States.

Publication date:10/01/2007