World Bank: U.S. Leads in Global Flaring Reduction
Posted May 3, 2021
The World Bank is out with its annual Global Gas Flaring Tracker Report, and there’s positive news on U.S. flaring from natural gas and oil production – underscoring industry’s commitment to reduce emissions while continuing to supply the affordable, reliable energy Americans use every day.
The report showed a 32% decrease in U.S. flaring from 2019-2020. This included decreased flaring in three key shale regions – the Permian, Bakken and Eagle Ford. Lower production last year associated with the pandemic was a factor, but the report also notes infrastructure improvements to capture and use gas that in the past would have been flared. The report:
We do see some marked improvements in a variety of regions and contexts. The United States performed particularly well in 2020, with gas flaring falling by 32 percent from 2019 to 2020, partly due to an 8 percent drop in oil production, but also through the construction of infrastructure to use gas that would otherwise be flared. The United States’ reduction accounted for 70 percent or 5.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of the global decline.
A big part of the context for these numbers is the natural gas and oil industry’s use of technology and innovation to reduce emissions from production, which industry plans to further advance through elements in API’s new Climate Action Framework.
API member companies support direct regulation of methane from new and existing sources, development of new technologies to detect methane emissions, reductions in refinery greenhouse gas emissions and continued reduction in flaring.
The Environmental Partnership, whose 90 upstream and midstream companies represent 74% of new U.S. onshore natural gas and oil production, has implemented a flare management program that supports best practices that reduce flare volumes, promotes the use of associated gas, improves flare reliability and efficiency when flaring does occur and collects data to calculate flare intensity as the key metric to gauge progress from year to year.
There’s progress to build on, according to the World Bank flaring report. Produced with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Colorado School of Mines, the report says there was significant improvement in reducing flaring in those three big producing basins. Again, 2020 was a down year for production, but the report says more gas that would’ve been flared is being connected to existing and new pipeline networks. Charts from the report show this:
This infrastructure would include increased takeaway capacity, such as provided by the Gulf Coast Express Pipeline – specifically mentioned in the World Bank report. This is something to remember when there’s opposition to new pipeline infrastructure, such as occurred in Texas in 2019. Our country runs on natural gas and oil and will for decades to come – and we need that energy produced safely with reduced emissions. Pipeline infrastructure, which is missing from the administration’s new infrastructure plan (see API’s comment), is critically important to doing both.
Here is the report’s chart for flaring intensity – emissions per barrel of oil – which shows the U.S. among the lowest of the producing nations:
One other thing to note in the report is that some other producing countries saw increased flaring in 2020. Venezuela, for example, has seen a collapse in oil production since 2018, yet gas flaring has increased more than 4% since 2018.
This points to what we’ve been saying as the Biden administration continues pausing new federal natural gas and oil leasing: Potentially decreasing domestic natural gas and oil production could mean increased imports from countries whose production isn’t as environmentally friendly as production here at home.
It’s one report, and 2020 production levels play a part in lower U.S. flaring. But there’s also credit to the work of industry, technology and innovation to proactively reduce flare volumes. That’s good news for industry and the environment.
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.
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