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Flaring Wastes 5% of Global Gas Output, Says GE Energy

Technology exists to curtail natural gas flaring, but it will take a concerted effort worldwide to capture the lost gas, an energy arm of General Electric Co. (GE) said in a new report.

Associated natural gas is found in oil deposits, but most of the gas is burned off during oil production. However, capturing the flared gas could be possible within five years, said GE Energy's Michael Farina, who manages global strategy and planning for the industrial giant.

"Associated gas flaring is one of the most challenging energy and environmental problems facing the world today," said Farina. By GE Energy's estimates, close to 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas are flared in the world each year, which represent an "enormous waste of natural resources," as well as contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to GE Energy researchers, the gas lost through flaring is "roughly equivalent" to gas use in all U.S. residences for a year. By its figures, the flared gas also represents:

Technology to capture flared gas "exists today," but "deeper issues regarding infrastructure development and market design hinder progress in the places where gas flaring is most rampant," said Farina.

Over the past decade, many producers have shifted away from large-scale flaring as an accepted practice, which has led to progress in gathering and using the associated gas streams, he noted. However, Farina said more needs to be done.

"A lack of technology solutions is not the problem; gas flaring can be dealt with today through a variety of existing technologies at reasonable cost," he said. "Depending on the region, power generation, gas re-injection to enhance oil recovery, gathering and processing, pipeline development, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and a variety of distributed energy solutions can be deployed.

"However, often regional political complexities and lack of gas infrastructure systems drive the decision to flare gas."

Farina said it is "increasingly clear" that the next phase to reduce flared gas, depending on the region, will require a "major, coordinated effort" by central and regional governments, producers, technology providers and the international community.

"The perception that associated gas is not worth the effort needs to be challenged," he said.

In the Americas and in parts of Asia, Farina said, "the challenge will be to keep gas infrastructure investments in synch with oil developments, especially in remote offshore settings." However, the report said that "given the regulatory focus on emissions, North America and Europe have low flaring rates relative to oil produced."

Depending on the region, GE Energy's researchers found that "proven technologies" exist to capture flared gas, including distributed power generation, large-scale efficient commercial power generation, re-injection, LNG, gathering and processing; and micro gas-to-liquids projects.

"GE believes that with good government policy and effective corporate governance technology, solutions to flaring can almost always be found," said Farina. "However, some national oil companies need to become more adept at managing natural gas resources and foster a better understanding of the value of gas within the culture of the company."

The report is available from GE Energy.

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