Governments, oil and gas producers, technology providers and the international community need to strengthen and co-ordinate efforts to eliminate the burning or ‘flaring’ of natural gas, says GE.

The US technology conglomerate has published a report that estimates that five per cent of the world’s natural gas production is wasted through flaring – an amount equivalent to 30 per cent of the EU’s annual gas consumption.

Gas flaring emits 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, the same as 77 million automobiles, without producing useful heat or electricity, says GE.

In its report – Flare Gas Reduction: Recent Global Trends and Policy Considerations – GE finds that the technologies required for reducing gas flaring are available today. It suggests that local efforts as well as greater international coordination are required to reduce flaring.

“Power generation, gas-reinjection and distributed energy solutions are available today and can eliminate the wasteful practice of burning unused gas, said Michael Farina, program manager at GE Energy and author of the white paper. “This fuel can be used to generate affordable electricity for the world’s homes and factories.”

Farina continues: “With greater global attention and concerted effort – including partnerships, sound policy and innovative technologies – large-scale gas flaring could be largely eliminated in as little as five years. It’s a win-win outcome.”

In order to reduce flaring, governments, oil producers and technology providers should cooperate to communicate the value of natural gas, secure local government support for enforcing flaring regulations and build frameworks to encourage the use of distributed power generation. Investment support is also required, for example in the form of partial risk guarantees, says GE.

According to GE, as much as 50 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas is wasted annually through flaring in Russia alone. If half of this flare gas was captured and sold at prevailing domestic prices, the economic opportunity may exceed $2 billion. A significant portion of this waste could be avoided with modest policy efforts and greater emphasis on investments in power generation and gas processing technologies, says the report.

The report also indicates that significant quantities of natural gas are wasted through flaring in Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo and Cameroon. Nigeria has reduced flaring by 28 per cent from 2000 levels, but still wastes 15 bcm of natural gas every year.

“Making better use of vented and flared gas is a tremendous opportunity,” said David Victor, director of the Laboratory on International Law & Regulation at the University of California San Diego. “It will help slow global warming while also saving scarce natural resources.”