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'Crime Against Humanity': Poisonous Gas Flaring on the Rise

'Gas flares go on because it is cheap to kill, as long as profits keep on the rise,' says Nnimmo Bassey

Common Dreams staff

Gas flaring in Nigeria. The World Bank says $50 billion of gas is wasted annually. (Photo: Friedrich Stark/Alamy)

The Global Gas Flaring Reduction (GGFR), led by the World Bank, on Wednesday urged oil producing companies and countries to reduce flaring of natural gas associated with oil production by 30 percent by 2017.

The BBC reported that the group agreed "to press oil firms" to reduce the flaring, or burning of natural gas at oil production sites where gas at the surface cannot be brought to consumers. The enviromental group Friends of the Earth, however, says the practice should be banned altogether.

Nnimmo Bassey, director of Lagos-based Environmental Rights Action and chair of Friends of the Earth International, told the Guardian, "Gas flares are nothing short of crimes against humanity. They roast the skies, kill crops and poison the air. These gas stacks pump up greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, impacting the climate, placing everyone at risk. Gas flares go on because it is cheap to kill, as long as profits keep on the rise."

The GGFR said the reduction would reduce the amount of C02 emissions as much as taking 60 million cars off the road, according to a release from the organization.

New estimates indicate that gas flaring in 20 of the world's leading oil-producing countries contributes as much to climate change as a major economy like Italy, the Guardian reports.

The US, ranked fifth for highest volume in the world's gas flaring league table, increased the amount it flared by nearly 50% in 2010-2011 and has nearly tripled the amount it flares in the last five years largely because of shale oil developments in places like North Dakota, according to the Guardian.

Rachel Kyte, vice president for sustainable development for the World Bank, said the goal is realistic.

"Given the need for energy in so many countries—one in five people on the planet are without electricity—we need to raise our ambition," Kyte said in a statement during a global forum hosted by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. "We simply cannot afford to waste this gas anymore."

Gas flaring allows for the disposal of natural gas in petroleum producing areas where there is no infrastructure to make use of the gas. However, it wastes energy and adds carbon emissions to the atmosphere, according to the National Geophysical Data Center. 

Since a global standard for flaring was established and partners began sharing best practices and identifying and supporting gas utilization projects, gas flaring has been reduced by 275 million tons of C02 emissions, or 20 percent, according to the GGFR. But representattives at the forum agreed to "deepen their collaboration" to further reduce collaboration and focus on helping countries develop gas infrastructure and markets as a way of expanding access to cleaner electricity and cooking fuels.

Still, Roger Harrabin of the BBC reported World Bank statistics that estimate $50 billion in fuel is wasted in gas flaring every year — 140 billion cubic meters of gas or a third of the annual gas consumption of the European Union.

Harrabin continued:

The World Bank says there have been substantial improvements, with a 40% cut in flaring volume in Russia, and a 29% reduction in Nigeria.

In July, the BBC reported that The USA, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Venezuela are the main contributors to this increase. These countries need to step up their efforts in associated gas utilization. The same applies to Iraq.

Most of the increased flaring in the USA comes from North Dakota, where there has been an important increase in activity related to shale oil and gas production.

Russia still tops the world's flaring countries, followed by Nigeria, Iran and Iraq.  The USA is now the fifth flaring country in the world, with some 7.1 bcm of gas flared in 2011.

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