New Documentary into Gas Flaring

Written by Nicol Wistreich on . Posted in Environment & sustainability

gas flareApparently 150 billion cubic metres of gas are burnt off every year - enough gas to power the United States for three months. Even worse - the 390 million tonnes of carbon dioxide released while doing this is more than the reduction of CO2 emissions from many of the carbon offseting projects of the Koyoto protocol. Nigeria alone burns off enough gas to power half of Africa for a year. Writer, producer and director (and co-author of the first funding book), Caroline Hancock, has just completed a documentary on the subject and apparently almost got shot when shooting in Nigeria. While the screening on BBC World has passed it may well appear online at some point or be replayed on the channel - and either way sounds like a pretty important contribution to an ever more urgent problem.

The flaring and venting of Natural Gas is wasting valuable resources and contributing to climate change. The World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction partnership estimates that 150 billion cubic metres of gas are burnt off or ‘flared’ every year – enough to supply the whole of the United States for three months. Gas flaring and venting also puts 390 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year – more than the reduction of CO2 emissions from all the projects currently registered under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism. A new programme in TVE’s Earth Report series goes to Russia and Nigeria to assess the scale of the problem and to examine possible solutions.

For decades national and private oil companies have been burning the gas associated with oil production. Natural gas is released when oil is produced but is less profitable, especially in countries that lack sufficient regulation, infrastructure and markets. 

 “Gas Flaring is a very serious problem today…it’s equivalent to 390 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.” says Rashad Kaldany, former head, Global Gas Flaring Reduction partnership,
Although gas flaring continues to be a challenging problem, particularly in developing countries, capturing gas is not a new idea. Canada introduced legislation in the 1930s and Norway in the 1960s, so that oil companies could capture and use the gas produced by oil extraction. As a result, both countries now lead the world in gas capture technologies.
“It’s a win-win for everybody, you have the potential to increase utilisation of a premium fuel…it has an opportunity to provide some poverty alleviation benefits and it reduces a greenhouse gas.” Arden Berg, Alberta Energy and Utilities Board
The world’s top gas flarers, Nigeria and Russia, together burn about 45 billion cubic metres of gas a year. Despite the fact that gas flaring has been regulated in Nigeria since 1984, the country currently flares off about 40 per cent of its associated gas - enough to power half of Africa for a year. Yet most Nigerians have no access to electricity.
Capturing the gas and transporting it to domestic and international markets is difficult and expensive. The aim of the GGFR partnership is to help Nigeria, and other flaring countries overcome these barriers to meet the commitment to end gas flaring.
Small-scale power generation in locations like Bonny Kingdom in the Niger Delta is diverting associated gas into power distribution, bringing near constant electricity to some areas at affordable prices. Natural gas is also being liquefied for export to the Atlantic basin.
Russia faces different challenges. Satellite images show that Siberia is home to the largest field of gas flares in the world. Oil operations are often sited in very remote and inhospitable regions where the capture and transport of gas is complex and expensive. But even here, there is a business opportunity. One company is converting gas to methanol in a small plant on site at an oil field. Methanol is much easier to transport and is sold to the petrochemicals industry. Russian gas and oil giant, Novatek, has just built a methanol plant in the North Western plains of Siberia.
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Billion Dollar Bonfire was produced with the support of The World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership.
TVE and its Partners distribute Earth Report programmes for broadcast and educational and campaigning use in countries across Africa, Asia & the Pacific, and Latin America & the Caribbean – to schools, colleges, universities, NGOs, environmental agencies and other ‘multiplier’ organisations.