Monday, February 11, 2013

Too Much Flaring of Natural Gas? How a Carbon Tax Could Help

After a few years when the practice was declining, flaring of natural gas is back in the news. (See, for example, Flares take shine off fracking boom in the Financial Times for Jan. 27.) Estimates indicate that natural gas flaring accounts for more than 1 percent of all the CO2 that human activity releases into the atmosphere, about as much as the entire country of Spain. The focus of recent attention has been North Dakota, where some 29 percent of all gas that is produced is flared.

Why so much waste of this valuable resource, often touted as the bridge fuel to our clean-energy future, and what can be done about it?

Flaring: The photo

Natural gas flaring is serious problem, but not a new one. What has prompted the FT article and a flurry of similar pieces in newspapers, on blogs, and on television is the appearance of dramatic new photographs of the Earth at night, taken by NASA’s Suomi-NPP satellite. The one below zooms in on a pattern of bright lights in the Baaken hydrocarbon formation in North Dakota. In other versions that zoom out on the same view, the cluster of lights around Williston shows up almost as brightly as Chicago or Minneapolis.

Before discussing flaring directly, a few comments are in order regarding the photos themselves. Although they have been useful  in bringing public attention to the problem of flaring, they have sometimes been misinterpreted. >>>Read more

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