Since July, Russia is believed to have been flaring large amounts of gas near the Finnish border, emitting approximately 9,000 tons of CO2 per day. DW is considering potential climate impacts.
In its recent analysis of activities at the Portovaya LNG facility under construction near the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline’s entry into the Baltic Sea, Norwegian company Rystad Energy said Russia was flaring gas that would normally be supplied to Europe. Have relations with the West deteriorated as a result of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine?
Flaring is generally a common practice near oil fields and refineries around the world, where companies flare gas produced as a by-product of various oil exploration and production processes.
Companies typically resort to flaring when they do not have the proper infrastructure or financial incentives to bring gas to market, or when it needs to be released for safety reasons to cope with pressure changes during crude oil production.
Currently, huge volumes of gas are flared annually. According to the World Bank, in 2021, about 144 billion cubic meters of gas were burned in thousands of flares at oil production facilities around the world – enough to power all of sub-Saharan Africa, or nearly two-thirds of the European Union’s net domestic electricity. generation.
How does this affect the environment?
Flaring is considered more environmentally friendly than venting gas directly to the atmosphere.
“If there is too much gas in some parts of your network, you have to release it, and of course it is better for the climate to burn it, because you reduce the greenhouse effect significantly, than if you emit natural gas, since it is CH4 [methane]said Stefan Lechtenböhmer, Professor and Director of Future Energy and Industrial Systems at the Wuppertal Institute, a German think tank.
Compared to CO2 from flaring, methane is about 80 times more likely to contribute to global warming over a 20-year period.
Despite this, gas flaring is still considered economically unproductive and a major climate problem. “You have CO2 emissions, but they are of no use: you don’t produce electricity, you don’t produce heat, you don’t control industrial processes, etc.,” Lechtenbömer said.
Losses of gas from flaring, ventilation and methane leaks from oil and gas operations resulted in emissions of about 2.7 billion tons of CO2 equivalent in 2021. Preventing these losses will have the same impact on rising global temperatures by 2050 as immediately eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from all the world’s cars, trucks and buses, according to the International Energy Agency.
Potential impact of the Russian gas flare
Zongqiang Luo, senior gas and LNG analyst at Rystad Energy, says the sheer volume of gas flared at an LNG plant in Russia makes the case particularly worrisome. “Normal, standard procedure would not allow that amount of gas to be flared.”
Although the exact volume of gas lost by flaring at Portovaya is difficult to accurately calculate, Rystad estimates it to be around 4.34 million cubic meters per day. This corresponds to 1.6 billion cubic meters per year, which is about 0.5% of the EU’s annual gas requirement.
Rystad Energy has called the situation an “environmental disaster” with about 9,000 tons of CO2 emitted daily.
Lechtenbemer said that this daily gas flaring is equivalent to about 10-12% of the amount of gas that is currently supplied every day by Nord Stream 1.
“This is a major environmental crime – it is protracted, lasts for months and, as we will now learn, is very visible,” said R. Andreas Kremer, founder of the non-profit organization Environmental Institute. research organization based in Berlin.
Since mid-July, Russian gas giant Gazprom has reduced gas flows through the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to just 20%, citing technical reasons such as faulty equipment.
Germany rejects this argument and says the reduction in gas supplies was a political move in response to Western sanctions against Moscow over the war in Ukraine.
Some argue that after Russia cut off supplies to its European consumers, it could not channel the gas elsewhere and therefore chose to burn it.
Gazprom, which according to Rystad Energy is building a plant that flares the gas, did not respond to requests for comment.
Black carbon pollution and the Arctic
Experts such as Kremer have also raised concerns about black carbon pollution, better known as soot, from flaring from incomplete combustion of fuels such as natural gas. Black carbon contributes significantly to global warming by converting solar radiation into heat and influencing precipitation patterns.
Kramer is concerned about the northern geographical position of the Portovaya torch.
“I think from this place [black carbon] it will go far,” he said, explaining that due to the high temperature, it can rise to great heights, from where it can be carried over considerable distances. “They are [black carbon particles] eventually they will fall to the ground. And if they settle on the snow, they change the absorption of sunlight by the surface of the snow or ice, which can accelerate the melting of the Arctic.”
Using calculations of the estimated flow rate through the flare, it is likely that this single flare plant currently produces more black carbon than all of Finland, said Matthew Johnson, professor and head of the Energy and Emissions Laboratory at Carleton University in Canada.
Based on Rystad’s analysis, the World Bank stated that daily flaring at the Portovaya LNG facility is equivalent to approximately 6% of estimated daily flaring in Russia in 2021. deposits in Eastern Siberia.
By volume, the country flares more gas than any other country in the world, topping the list, which includes Iraq, Iran, the US and Venezuela.
Niko Bauer, a senior fellow at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, believes that Russia’s performance in reducing associated gas flaring is insufficient.
“The Russian government planned to reduce gas flaring from about 12% of associated gas to less than 5%, which is the figure achieved in countries with a developed gas industry. However, this was not achieved.”