"Flaring" Wastes 3.5 Percent of the World's Natural Gas

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Around 3.5% of the world’s natural-gas supply was wastefully burned, or ‘flared’, at oil and gas fields in 2012, according to the latest estimates from satellite data. The United States has the greatest number of flares, but Russia leads the world in the total volume of flared natural gas (see chart, 'Top natural-gas-flaring nations'). In 2012, the 143 billion cubic metres of gas flared led to the emission of more than 350 million tons of carbon dioxide, around 10% of the annual emissions of European Union member states. Estimates for later years have yet to be published. But a preliminary analysis suggests that the overall volume of gas flared has remained fairly constant, says Christopher Elvidge, a remote-sensing specialist who leads a team at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Washington DC that collects gas-flaring data. Flaring is common in oil and gas fields because producers deem it faster and cheaper to burn natural gas than to capture and use it, typically because they lack pipelines to economically transport the gas to market. But official data on the extent of the practice are scarce. In a December 25 paper, the NOAA researchers report tracking flares using an instrument aboard a NASA weather satellite that takes images of Earth in infrared and visible light. (Previously, the team had used images from a US Air Force defence satellite, but a degradation in the satellite’s orbit made it impossible to collect accurate global data on gas flaring). Read More: Scientific American

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