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Cut Global Gas Flaring by 30%, Says Group

Countries and companies that produce oil should reduce the flaring of associated natural gas by 30% by 2017, the World Bank-led Global Gas Flaring Reduction (GGFR) partnership said last Wednesday. Meanwhile, in the United States and Mexico, progress on flaring reduction is being made as gas-handling infrastructure is built out in oil plays.

A global flaring reduction of the size GGFR called for would cut flaring from 140 billion cubic meters in 2011 to 100 billion cubic meters by the end of 2017. This would represent a reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions equivalent to removing 60 million cars from the road, GGFR said.

"A 30% cut in five years is a realistic goal," said Rachel Kyte, the bank's vice president for sustainable development. "Given the need for energy in so many countries -- one in five people on the planet are without electricity -- we need to raise our ambition. We simply cannot afford to waste this gas anymore."

The GGFR partnership has already helped reduce gas flaring by 20%, from 172 billion cubic meters in 2005 to 140 billion cubic meters in 2011. This cut translates into the prevention of 274 million tons of CO2 emissions, roughly equivalent to taking 52 million cars off the road, the partnership said.

In the United States, the Bakken Shale oil play in North Dakota is home to a large percentage of the natural gas flared in the nation. North Dakota gas production has more than doubled since 2005, largely due to associated natural gas from the growing oil production in the Bakken, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Gas production averaged more than 485 MMcf/d in September 2011, compared to the 2005 average of about 160 MMcf/d, EIA said.

However, due to insufficient natural gas pipeline capacity and processing facilities in the region, more than 35% of North Dakota's natural gas production was flared or otherwise not marketed last year, according to EIA. "The percentage of flared gas in North Dakota is considerably higher than the national average; in 2009, less than 1% of natural gas produced in the United States was vented or flared," EIA said. North Dakota has a goal of reducing flaring to no more than 10% of gas produced, mainly through the buildout of pipelines and processing infrastructure to handle associated gas (see NGI, Aug. 13).

Interest in flaring gas among Texas producers statewide more than doubled in fiscal 2011 from the year-ago period. In fiscal 2011 the Railroad Commission of Texas approved 651 permits to flare gas, more than double the 306 approved during the year-ago period (306), which was nearly double the number approved in fiscal 2009 (158). Texas is home to the Eagle Ford Shale, where producers have largely forsaken the play's natural gas window in favor of oil and condensate, the production of which can necessitate flaring of associated gas.

In Mexico flaring has been a problem, but it is getting better, EIA said in a backgrounder on the country published on its website earlier this month. "Regulatory bodies report that approximately 250 Bcf of natural gas was vented and flared [in Mexico] in 2011," EIA said. "More than half of the country's venting and flaring occurred at Cantarell [oil field 50 miles offshore in the Bay of Campeche]. "However, Pemex [Petroleos Mexicanos] and government agencies have prioritized a reduction in gas flaring for economic and environmental reasons. Efforts to improve the infrastructural capacity to capture, process, and transport associated natural gas production, particularly at Cantarell, have been effective and gas utilization rates have recently increased."

GGFR partners have reduced flaring by establishing a global standard for gas flaring reduction, sharing best practices on regulation and technology deployment, and by identifying and supporting gas utilization projects. They have agreed to expand their collaboration to reduce gas flaring by working along the whole gas value chain, both upstream and downstream. GGFR partners will focus on helping countries develop gas infrastructure and gas markets as a way of expanding access to cleaner electricity and cooking fuels, the partnership said.

"To increase flaring reduction, countries and companies need to work together to nurture viable gas markets and build adequate gas infrastructure. Partners can seize business opportunities while also reducing emissions and expanding access to modern energy -- a key goal of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative," said Kyte, who spoke at a forum in London of 200 representatives of GGFR partners hosted by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The Sustainable Energy for All initiative, launched by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and supported by the World Bank Group, calls on governments, businesses and civil society to achieve three goals by 2030: universal access to energy, including electricity and clean cooking fuels; doubling of the renewable share of power from 15% to 30% of the global mix; and doubling the energy efficiency improvement rate.

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