In the 1960's and 1970's Natural gas used to be continually flared in Texas and Saudi Arabia, but in more recent years, Russia and Nigeria flare the highest amount of Natural gas.
Flaring Natural gas has pumped out about 110 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year, about 0.5% of the World's Carbon dioxide emissions.
The act of gas flaring has reduced due to the potential energy use/commercialization of the associated gas (AG) and has led more oil extracting companies to devise means to trap and channel the gas for energy. Gas flaring has also reduced due to more awareness of the significant health and environmental effects it produces as well as because the high volume of carbon dioxide emitted during flaring is a major driver of Climate Change.
In Nigeria, burning off the associated gas (AG) has been illegal since 1984 and the Nigerian government has set up several deadlines to end the practice, but Gas flaring continues till this day. Some reductions have actually been seen in recent times in the volume of Gas Flares and documented by the Government but analysts say this reduction has been has a consequence of militancy in the oil producing Niger Delta region of Nigeria, which halved oil production and subsequently the flaring.
According to a 2005 Friends of the Earth report, about 2.5 billion cubic feet of gas associated with crude oil is flared in this way every day. This is equal to 40% of all Africa's natural gas consumption in 2001 and reresents a financial loss to Nigeria of about 2.5billion USD. The flares have contributed large volumes of green house gases than all of Sub Saharan Africa combined as well as several dangerous toxins released into the atmosphere, polluting the soil and thereby affecting the health and well being of the nearby Niger Delta communities, exposing the residents to an increased risk of premature deaths, respiratory illnesses such as Asthma, and cancer.
One of the significant effect of gas flaring is its contribution to climate change. The burning of fossil fuels, mainly coal, oil and gas has led to warming up of the world and is expected to get worse according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In July 2003, Sir John Houghton, who was on the IPCC's scientific panel said "the impacts of global warming are such that I have no hesitation in describing it as a weapon of mass destruction". Climate change is particularly serious for developing countries and Africa, because of a high vulnerability and limited ability to adapt to the effects of climate change such as a scarcity of water resources, a shortage of food due to changes in climatic paterns that can lead to decline in agricultural productions, spread of pests and diseases especially vector and water borne, possible floodings/sea level rise in coastal areas as well as desertification due to intensified land use.
The flaring of Associated Gas during oil production result in emissions comprising particulate matter (smoke), sulfur and nitrogen oxides, benz[a]pyrene and dioxin and unburned fuel components such as toluene, benzene and xylene. These components lead to significant health problems such as asthma, coughing and difficulty in breathing, chronic bronchitis and possibly premature death. According to the U.S EPA, it has been clearly established that exposure to benzene and its metabolites cause acute nonlymphocytic leukemia and a variety of other blood related disorders in humans.
Due to the release of oxides of Nitrogen and Sulfur into the atmosphere, acid rain is formed as a result of a mixture of these gases with moisture. Acid rain causes there to be an acidification of lakes and streams and also destroys vegetaion. Acid rain also damages structures and buildinggs, reduces visibility and generally causes harm to public health.
Nigeria is drafting an oil bill which is close to being finalised that mandates oil firms to stop flaring gas by the end of this year. A draft of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) states "Natural gas shall not be flared or vented after 31st December, 2012, in any oil and gas production operation, block or field, onshore or offshore, or gas facility,except under exceptional and temporary circumstances". This is perceived to be good news although many oil industry analysts see the new target date to end flaring as unrealistic.
Gas flaring should be brought to an end because of the monumental waste of resources especially in a country like Nigeria where energy demand surpasses supply and where over 70% of the population still live in abject poverty. In addition, the extent of environmental degradation that gas flaring causes is enormous and therefore stopping gas flaring will reduce the environmental and health effects.