Where does flaring and venting occur?
This is a global phenomenon, occurring wherever oil and gas production takes place. However, fewer than 20 countries are responsible for more than 70% of gas flaring and venting and just four countries (Russia, Nigeria, Iran and Iraq) together flare about 70 billion cubic metres (50% of the world total). The World Bank provides a table of the top 20 flaring countries.
What are the impacts of flaring and venting?
There are a range of human, environmental and economic impacts to consider, including:
- Climate change
Globally some 140 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas are flared and vented each year, equivalent to approximately 30% of the European Union’s annual gas consumption. This has a global impact on climate change producing about 400 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Venting releases methane into the atmosphere; as a climate change gas methane is 21 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.
- Health threats
Although most high-flaring oil fields are in remote locations, they often attract communities of migrant labourers and their families. The air pollution associated with gas flaring and venting poses a significant health risk for local communities and for people who work in these oil fields. Residents in nearby communities have experienced chronic health problems, including bronchial, chest, rheumatic, and eye complaints.Flaring emits a mixture of particulate matter (smoke) combustion by-products (carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxides and others), dioxin and other toxins as well as unburned fuel components (benzene, toluene, xylene, hydrogen sulphide). Flaring can cause acid rain locally that damages crops (as well as roofing materials); this has negative knock-on effects on health and livelihoods.
- Loss to the economy
The economic impacts of flaring and venting are significant in terms of loss of revenues from gas not used. In Nigeria alone, a joint UNDP – World Bank report estimated in 2004 that the annual economic loss to Nigeria from flaring and venting (based on LNG values) was approximately US $ 2.5 billion.