More Gas Goes up in Smoke Again

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For all the voluntary initiatives to end gas flaring and industry talk of cleaning up its act, the volumes of associated gas going up in smoke increased again in 2016 -- as they have done every year since 2011. Around 149 billion cubic meters (14.4 billion cubic feet per day) was flared at oil production sites globally in 2016 -- equivalent to a third of EU gas demand -- 2 Bcm more than in 2015 and 8 Bcm up on 2013, new World Bank data show. Flared gas represented just over 4% of global gas output -- a significant volume that could be used to feed growing demand in countries either considering or already importing gas -- with World Bank officials noting a deterioration in conflict-torn countries like Iraq focused more on maintaining oil production than curbing flaring. The bulk of last year's increase came from Iran, according to new estimates based on US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite technology. Iran, the world's third-biggest flarer, burned about 16.4 Bcm, up 4.3 Bcm from 2015 (WGI Dec.21'16). The rise reflects a bounce back in oil production following the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions one year ago, and the start-up of some new heavy oil developments west of Karun in the southwest. Russia, which retained its unwanted accolade of world's No. 1 flarer, saw a 2.9 Bcm rise to around 24 Bcm, following a 1.5 Bcm increase in 2014. Russia still burns off around a quarter of its associated gas despite the official goal of increasing gas utilization to 95% by the start of 2012. Although utilization is rising amid tougher penalties and improvements in gas infrastructure and market access in some traditional oil-producing heartlands, this is offset by higher flaring in "new" oil and gas provinces like Eastern Siberia. The figures come from the World Bank-led Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR), which uses the NOAA's newer, more accurate infrared satellite technology to gather and interpret gas flares from over 16,000 locations in about 90 countries. Among the world's top 20 flarers, six burned more gas last year than they did in 2015. But World Bank officials hope the trend will reverse this year and are optimistic that the initiative to end flaring by 2030 will have a positive impact longer-term. "A key aspect of the commitment under the initiative is that oil companies and governments ensure associated gas is not routinely flared in new field developments," says Bjorn Hamso, GGFR program manager. "That alone should make a significant difference in the coming years." But Hamso acknowledged that "flaring will not disappear anytime soon without stepping up efforts to monetize the gas." In Iraq, the second-worst offender in 2016, flaring rose for the seventh year running as oil production continued to ramp up, rising 1.5 Bcm to 17.7 Bcm. Iraq plans to build three new plants to process associated gas around the Basrah petroleum hub in the south, where the five largest oil fields account for 65% of currently flared gas volumes. These represent an annual economic loss of around $2.5 billion and could support roughly 8.5 gigawatts of generation capacity that would help combat severe electricity shortages, the bank reckons. Flaring also increased in Angola, likely because of problems at Angola LNG, which is fed by associated gas but was out of action for repairs from May 2014 to June 2016. It also jumped in Oman and Saudi Arabia. The US, however, saw a significant improvement, with flaring down 2.9 Bcm to 8.8 Bcm, although it still ranks sixth-worst in the world. Hamso believes this was partly down to continued investments in pipeline infrastructure in North Dakota to gather more gas from oil production sites. "It is uncertain how more stringent policies to curb gas flaring and venting will impact the situation on the ground, and to what extent new federal or traditional state regulation will be the driving force," he said. The Trump administration is trying to suspend requirements underpinning Obama-era rules to curb flaring and methane emissions on federal and tribal lands (WGI Jun.14'17). Despite the latest figures, the World Bank's voluntary initiative to end routine flaring by 2030, endorsed by 55 countries and companies, is gaining momentum in line with broader climate efforts. In June, Lukoil became the first Russian oil company to endorse the scheme, with the support of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Lukoil President Vagit Alekperov said finding a more effective way to use associated gas is a "crucial element of our strategy." Deb Kelly, London Top 20 Flaring Countries 2013-16 (Bcm) 2013 2014 2015 Chg.

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