General Electric, ranked by Forbes as the second largest company in the world after JPMorgan Chase, has released a study warning that 5% of the world's natural gas production is wasted by burning or 'flaring' unused gas.
According to the study, the amount of gas wasted is equivalent to 30% of consumption in the European Union and 23% in the United States.
Gas flaring emits 400 million metric tons of CO2 annually — the same amount as 77 million cars — without producing useful heat or electricity. Worldwide, billions of cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas are wasted annually, typically as a by-product of oil extraction.
The study finds that the technologies required for a solution exist today. Depending on region, these may include power generation, gas re-injection (for enhanced oil recovery, gathering and processing), pipeline development and distributed energy solutions. Nearly $20 billion in wasted natural gas could be used to generate reliable, affordable electricity and yield billions of dollars per year in increased global economic output.
"Power generation, gas re-injection and distributed energy solutions are available today and can eliminate the wasteful practice of burning unused gas. This fuel can be used to generate affordable electricity for the world's homes and factories," said Michael Farina, programme manager at GE Energy and author of the white paper.
"With greater global attention and concerted effort — including partnerships, sound policy and innovative technologies — large-scale gas flaring could be largely eliminated in as little as five years. It's a win-win outcome," Farina added.
The report provides a region-by-region analysis of gas-flaring trends, including Russia, the world's largest source of flare gas emissions, where as much as 50 billion cubic metres of the natural gas produced is wasted annually. If half of this flare gas (25 bcm per year) were captured and sold at prevailing domestic prices in Russia, the economic opportunity may exceed $2 billion US dollars (65 billion rubles), it estimates.
18 months ago, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin singled out the flaring of extracted gas alongside oil as one of the most glaring examples of ineffective use of energy resources in the country.
Russia is the largest gas and oil producer in the world and the second-largest exporter of oil after Saudi Arabia.