Gas Flaring

Friends of Earth InternationalGas flaring is a perfect study in wasteful human activity. This practice typically occurs in developing, oil-rich nations which are lacking in infrastructure. Essentially, those drilling for oil hit deposits of natural gas, which are difficult to extract and sell. Rather than investing in the infrastructure to liquefy and harness the gas, the short term solution is just to set fire to the gas and leave it to burn completely in the open.

Nigeria is the site of the most flaring, although countries like Russia also use it extensively. Nigeria has been under pressure to put a stop to it, and indeed all flaring is supposed to end this year, but all indications are that it won’t. As reported in the April 5th-11th issue of The Economist, oil producers were ordered to stop flaring in 1979 and be done within 5 years.

The problems with gas flaring are numerous. Obviously it’s a waste of an efficient energy source. Natural gas often finds use in America and other developed countries as a heating fuel that serves as a cleaner burning substitute for oil. The Economist reported that the value of the gas burned away each year in Nigeria alone is $500 million. Additionally, this results in huge amounts of greenhouse gases that aren’t even linked to any productive activity. There is so much localized pollution from burning in the delta region of Nigeria that there are reports of acid rain associated with the gas flaring. The environmental damage has caused some in the delta region to organize efforts to undermine the government and the oil industry.

Essentially, this is all attributable to a refusal on the part of oil producers to acknowledge the reality of a coming oil peak. There is such a rush to take sell oil as soon as humanly possible, that they are willing to throw away billions in potential natural gas revenue. This means that oil companies believe the oil prices are so high that they are better off throwing away the natural gas, alienating the surrounding people, and endangering vital assets in the country than waiting until after the infrastructure is there to sell the gas plus the oil. A rational firm operating under the assumption that peak oil is coming would try to maximize total output, including the natural gas and would realize that oil prices will not fall in the long-run and so there is no need to rush this oil to the market at the cost of other resources.

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One Response

  1. You’d think they would view this as a very effective means for powering their new gas-fuelled power stations in order to end some of the shortages in electricity you see. However, I doubt anyone is really willing to invest in such a volatile region, ATM.

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