Vast emissions of greenhouse gas are produced by the intentional burning of natural gas as companies drill faster than pipelines can move the energy away. The emissions corresponding those of almost 75 million cars.
While much of the energy sector is getting grip on the energy transition, some fossil fuel companies have significantly increased their flaring, as well as the venting of natural gas and other potent greenhouse gases directly into the atmosphere, according to data from the three largest shale-oil fields in the United States. Usually venting or flaring happens because the pipelines are not close enough to the production site to transport the gas, or because gas prices are just so low that it is cheaper to dispose of the gas than to try to sell it.
Last year, for example, venting and flaring in the Permian Basin oil field in Texas alone consumed more natural gas than states like Arizona and South Carolina use in a year. BP burned off 17 percent of the gas it produced in the Permian between April and June of this year.
And the trend is worrying too. Although Exxon Mobil said it would cut global flaring by 25 percent by 2020 compared to 2016 to address environmental concerns, Exxon 2018, flared 70 percent more than the year before. And in 2018, operators across the three basins together flared or vented a record 320 million cubic feet of gas, what is more than 40 percent above the level of five years ago, and the pace for the first two quarters of 2019 was even higher.
To make the scale of emissions understandable, the emissions by flaring, estimated by the World Bank, last year emitted carbon dioxide which is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of almost 75 million cars. What, put these cars in a row, results in a length of about 375.000 Km.
Or, explained different: An adult tree captures more or less about 10 kg of CO2 per year. To capture 320 million CO2 emissions caused by flaring would require an additional 32,000,000,000 trees – or a regulator more serious about this issue.