July 17 (UPI) -- Gas flaring from oil and gas operations, a source of greenhouse gas emissions, is on the decline, but reaching a goalpost remains elusive, the World Bank said.
The United Nations and World Bank in 2015 endorsed a goal of zero routine flaring by 2030. The aim, which has support from 27 governments and more than two dozen oil companies, is to find ways to eliminate the burning off of the natural gas associated with oil production no later than 2030.
Satellite data from a World Bank-managed program, which counts the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration among its partners, found gas flaring last year declined even though global oil production increased by about a half percent.
"The latest global gas flaring data is encouraging, but we will have to wait a few more years to know whether it represents a much-needed turning point," Riccardo Puliti, a World Bank director of its energy and extractive industries, said in an emailed statement Tuesday.
Gas flaring puts millions of tons of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere every year. In a market concerned about looming supply-side shortages, the World Bank added that burning off the associated gas was a "substantial" waste of natural resources.
"Ending routine gas flaring is a key component of our climate change mitigation agenda," Puliti added.
World Bank data show the total volume of natural gas flared last year was down about 5 percent from the previous year.
For Russia, the largest gas-flaring country in the world and among the world leaders in oil production, the volume of associated gas burned off declined 11 percent from 2016. From the United States, on pace to pass Russia as an oil producer, flaring increased nearly 7 percent, putting at No. 3 behind Iran and Libya, respectively, for major producers bucking the trend.
North Dakota, the second-largest producer in the United States, was among the first to advocate for a reduction in natural gas flaring. The state in 2014 set a goal of capturing 90 percent of associated gas within six years.
More than a decade ago, advocacy groups like Friends of the Earth, sounded alarms over the amount of gas flaring in Nigeria, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Apart from the "cocktail of toxins," FOE estimated flaring was costing Nigeria about $2.5 billion annually. Gas flaring in Nigeria increased 4 percent from 2016, but was below 2013 levels by 18 percent.
Much of the natural gas associated with shale oil deposits is burned off, or flared, because of a lack of infrastructure needed to utilize the resource.