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Gas flaring was responsible for Texas’s recent increase in oil refinery pollution, but it’s hardly a new problem. We’re less than a decade away from the UN’s goal of Zero Routine Flaring by 2030, but refineries still flare 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year, releasing 400 million tons of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Zubin Bamji, of the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership, says that ending routine gas flaring must be a part of “Build Back Better” efforts across the globe and that countries must better manage the gas byproducts of oil production even as they begin to phase it out.
Why This Matters: Companies have historically practiced gas flaring as a convenient and inexpensive way to “dispose of ” gas that was extracted alongside oil, as opposed to storing paying to store it. But this month, Texas learned the hard way that a lack of above-ground natural gas reserves left the state’s power grid vulnerable and that, ironically, a desperate need to protect processing equipment forced refineries to flare more gas. According to the World Economic Forum, if just half of all annual gas flaring was instead used for power generation, it could provide 400 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. COVID-19 and the climate crises like we saw in Texas are expected to push millions of people into extreme poverty. We need to save energy – not waste it – because flaring isn’t really “free” — we are just imposing those health and energy costs on those who can least afford them.
These pollutants have been shown not only to damage the atmosphere and environment, but to cause serious health problems for humans, including asthma, cardiac conditions, cancer, and neurological problems. Low-income, Black, and Latino communities often face the most health risks from these emissions, and studies have shown higher concentrations of air pollutants may increase the risk of severe COVID-19.
A No Brainer
Ending gas flaring would increase fuel reserves, waste less fuel, and prevent air pollution, but many countries and companies have put the issue on the back-burner. This is in part because it could take an estimated $100 billion for oil companies to create the infrastructure to collect, store, and distribute the fuel that they normally flare.
In Texas, many companies didn’t want to spend money to winterize their infrastructure, which would have included investing in above-ground fuel storage for excess natural gas.
Additionally, the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report projects that as COVID-19 vaccine rollouts take hold across the world, many governments will delay climate action and fossil fuel regulations as they try to rebuild their economies. In the U.S. there have been many efforts to ban gas flaring, including some from gas companies themselves, but they haven’t taken hold. President Biden has promised that climate action and renewable energy will play a central role in the nation’s COVID-19 recovery plan. Drilling and mining on federal lands are already on Biden’s chopping block; many experts hope that flaring will be next.
by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer Devastating wildfires in the world’s coldest region have led scientists to declare an “airpocalypse.” Siberia is being plagued by toxic fumes and wildfire smoke so thick that flights were suspended last week due to low visibility. 3.7 million acres of Northeastern Siberia have been destroyed, and with no end in sight, experts are […]
by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer The Bootleg fire in Southern Oregon has grown so large and so hot that it’s creating its own weather. You read that right; the Bootleg fire is disrupting wind patterns, causing fire to spread faster, and has even caused its own lightning. This development has presented an additional hardship for […]
In the U.S., about 100,000 deaths occur each year due to exposure to ambient air pollution – before the COVID-19 pandemic, this represented about 1 in 25 deaths. Air pollution is a ruthless killer that can even harm the development of babies while they’re still in the womb. That’s why it was important that the […]
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