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Iran, Iraq and Libya among worst offenders on gas flaring

Gas flaring at a plant in Veracruz state, Mexico. The country is one of the biggest contributors to global flaring, along with Iran, Iraq and Libya Reuters/Raquel Cunha
Gas flaring at a plant in Veracruz state, Mexico. The country is one of the biggest contributors to global flaring, along with Iran, Iraq and Libya
  • Flaring at highest level in five years
  • World Bank calls for ‘urgent action’
  • 381m tonnes of CO2 emitted

Environmentally ruinous flaring of gas at upstream oil and gas facilities has risen to its highest level for five years, despite pledges to end the practice, the World Bank has said.

Iran, Iraq and Libya were among the biggest contributors in 2023, according to a World Bank report published on June 20. Along with six other nations – Russia, the US, Venezuela, Algeria, Nigeria and Mexico – they were responsible for 75 percent of global gas flaring.

Saudi Arabia was the 10th biggest contributor in 2023, the World Bank said.

Non-emergency flaring occurs when a company burns excess gas during oil extraction instead of capturing and storing it. This releases carbon, methane and other pollutants, which contribute to climate change as well as posing health problems. 

Methane is 28 times as potent as CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Last year flared gas resulted in 381 million tonnes of CO2 emissions – roughly equivalent to the total emissions of Italy, the bank said.

“The global efforts to reduce gas flaring have not been sustainable – and urgent action is required,” said Zubin Bamji, programme manager of the World Bank's Global Flaring and Methane Reduction (GFMR) Partnership. 

The institution has launched a Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 initiative, which commits governments and oil companies to end the practice by the end of the decade. The GFMR Partnership was set up last year at Cop28 in Dubai, to help developing countries reduce their CO2 and methane emissions.

Although Russia flared the largest volume of gas last year, the biggest increase was in Iran. The latter burned more than 20 billion cubic metres of gas in 2023.

In Iran and Libya, increased flaring has been attributed to growing oil output. However intensity has also grown, indicating a lack of investment and prioritisation of gas recovery, according to the World Bank.

The Libyan National Oil Company committed to an 83 percent reduction in flaring by 2030 during Cop28.

Iraq is investing in gas capture, which could eliminate about 40 percent of its associated flaring, as part of a strategy to meet climate goals and use gas for electricity generation.

“We urge all oil and gas producers to carefully assess how they produce oil and gas and identify and seize opportunities for effective and long-term flaring reduction,” said Bamji.

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