Gas flaring in Iraq
One of the more wasteful practises of the oil industry is the burning off of natural gas that rises out of the well along with the oil. Much of the waste happens due to the high level of financial investment necessary to develop liquefied natural gas export facilities, making it too pricey to capture and sell, though some of it is flared for safety and well pressure control reasons. Such wasted gas could more cheaply be used to supply the country where it is produced, though the absence of export revenue make this prospect commercially unappealing to oil companies. This practise merely produces emissions of greenhouse gas without humanity deriving any benefit from it, in an era of depleting reserves, energy hunger in many oil producing countries (though not for the elites who can afford generators) and an urgent need to make our entire energy system that underpins our economies more efficient at squeezing the most out of what resources we do use.
Estimates for 2011 are that about 140 billion cubic metres of gas were flared worldwide accounting for 1% of human greenhouse gas emissions (down from 2% in the 1970’s. The countries wasting the most gas are Russia, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq (flaring about 70% of its gas production) and the USA. The two lines of flares in the photo outline the Zubair oil field in the south of the country. The city lights are Basra and Kuwait City. Finding a solution to this problem is necessary, but like the rest of the necessary transition in world energy, it will not come cheap, though the costs of the other option are shaping up to be far higher.
Image credit: NASA