The Problem With Natural Gas Flaring


A Texas A&M atmospheric scientist says routine flaring is wasteful, polluting and undermeasured.

If you’ve driven through an area where companies extract oil and gas from shale formations, you’ve probably seen flames dancing at the tops of vertical pipes. That’s flaring – the mostly uncontrolled practice of burning off a byproduct of oil and gas production. Over the past 10 years, the U.S. shale oil and gas boom has made this country one of the world’s top five flaring nations, just behind Russia, Iran and Iraq.

It’s a dubious distinction. Routine flaring gives the industry a black eye. I am an atmospheric scientist studying trace gases – chemicals that make up a small fraction of Earth’s atmosphere, but can have significant effects on the environment and human health. In several recent studies with graduate and undergraduate students, I have shown how routine flaring is inaccurately assessed and creates a sizable source of air pollution.

Due to a rapid oil price drop in the spring of 2020, new oil exploration has plummeted and production is running at reduced levels. But the industry can rapidly resume activities as demand and prices recover. And so will flaring.

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