A Decade of Stalled Progress on Reducing Global Gas Flaring

Ten countries account for three-quarters of gas flaring; ending flaring and methane emissions is key to the energy transition

Global progress to reduce gas flaring, the wasteful industry practice of burning natural gas during oil production, has stalled over the last decade. Globally, gas flaring resulted in nearly 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent emissions in 2021, further underscoring the urgency to accelerate the decarbonization of the world’s economies, says a new report from the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR)

Satellite data compiled and analyzed for GGFR’s 2022 Global Gas Flaring Tracker Report shows that 144 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas was flared at upstream oil and gas facilities last year. Ten oil-producing and flaring countries accounted for three-quarters of all gas flaring, seven of which — Russia, Iraq, Iran, the United States, Venezuela, Algeria, and Nigeria — have remained the top seven consistently over the last ten years.

“Climate change is one of the defining development challenges of our time. Ending the polluting and wasteful practice of gas flaring and decarbonizing oil and gas production, while also accelerating the transition to cleaner energy, is fundamental to mitigating climate change,” said Demetrios Papathanasiou, Global Director for the Energy and Extractives Global Practice at the World Bank.

Gas flaring results from market and economic constraints and a lack of appropriate regulation and political will. The practice releases pollutants into the atmosphere, and we estimate that the practice released 361 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, 39 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions in the form of methane, and black carbon (soot), contributing significantly to global warming.

While 2021 showed disappointing progress amidst the global pandemic, some promising flaring reduction trends emerged in several countries. GGFR finds that the United States is the only one of the top 10 flaring countries to have successfully reduced flare volumes while increasing production over the last decade, decreasing its flaring intensity — the volume of gas flared per barrel of oil produced — by 46 percent. In a companion report, Global Flaring and Venting Regulations, GGFRexamines the flaring and venting policies of 21 countries, and highlights successful approaches to reducing emissions. The report finds that many countries have also demonstrated leadership in flare reduction.

Kazakhstan has achieved the largest overall flare reduction of all countries in the last 10 years, reducing absolute flaring from 4 bcm in 2012 to 1.5 bcm in 2021, thanks to strictly enforced regulations, coupled with a domestic gas market that incentivizes associated gas recovery.

Colombia reduced flaring from 1 bcm in 2012 to 0.3 bcm in 2021, enabled by domestic gas utilization and strong regulations that prohibit any gas from being wasted.

“Many oil-producing countries already have policies in place to reduce gas flaring and venting, but not all approaches have proven effective,” said Zubin Bamji, GGFR’s Program Manager at the World Bank. “Our new regulatory review and analysis will help governments create the right policies for their specific circumstances so routine flaring and venting can come to an end by 2030, which is our collective goal.”

The World Bank’s GGFR is a trust fund and partnership of governments, oil companies, and multilateral organizations working to end routine gas flaring at oil production sites around the world. GGFR helps identify solutions to the array of technical, economic and regulatory barriers to flaring reduction. The partnership also advocates for ending routine gas flaring and venting by garnering commitments for the Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 initiative (ZRF). To date, 87 governments and companies have endorsed the ZRF initiative. GGFR, in partnership with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Payne Institute at the Colorado School of Mines, has developed global gas flaring estimates based upon observations from two satellites, launched in 2012 and 2017. The advanced sensors of these satellites detect the heat emitted by gas flares as infrared emissions at global upstream oil and gas facilities.