Flaring, meant to burn off the planet-warming gas at industrial sites, doesn’t always work as intended, according to researchers.
The oil industry practice of burning unwanted methane is less effective than previously assumed, scientists said Thursday, resulting in new estimates for releases of the greenhouse gas in the United States that are about five times as high as earlier ones.
In a study of the three largest oil and gas basins in the United States, the researchers found that the practice, known as flaring, often doesn’t completely burn the methane, a potent heat-trapping gas that is often a byproduct of oil production. And in many cases, they discovered, flares are extinguished and not reignited, so all the methane escapes into the atmosphere.
Improving efficiency and ensuring that all flares remain lit would result in annual emissions reductions in the United States equal to taking nearly 3 million cars off the road each year,