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Globally, countries are burning off more natural gas

Gas burns from a flare stack at an oil refinery in Dartmouth, N.S. In the field, where technology has led to new discoveries in shale oil and gas production, flaring is also on the rise globally.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Flaring is on the rise in Canada, and also in the United States and other parts of the world, despite global efforts to cut back, given the negative impact on the environment and industry economics.

The World Bank says there was a two-billion cubic metre (bcm) increase in flared gas in 2011 compared with a year earlier, to 140 bcm from 138, and urged that efforts be ramped up to reduce it.

"It is a warning sign that major gains over the past few years could be lost if oil-producing countries and companies don't step up their efforts," Bent Svensson, manager of the World Bank's Global Gas Flaring Reduction partnership (GGFR), said.

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The United States, Russia, Kazakhstan and Venezuela were the biggest contributors to the increase, according to the GGFR. It said Russia was the world's top flaring country, followed by Nigeria, Iran and Iraq.

The United States came in fifth, driven by an increase from North Dakota where technology has led to new discoveries in shale oil and gas production. North Dakota's Bakken shale fields are flaring nearly a third of natural gas drilled, according to a study released last month by Ceres, a non-profit group that works with investors on sustainability issues, including tracking the environmental record of public companies.

The report says the gas being flared is valued at more than $100-million (U.S.) a month, and that flaring has more than doubled in the past two years. It said flaring in North Dakota emitted 4.5 million metric tones of carbon dioxide in 2012, or what it said was equivalent to the annual emissions of a million cars.

Report author Ryan Salmon said Alberta flared about 60 per cent of the amount of natural gas of North Dakota in 2011, and that both jurisdictions are seeing an increase due to technological advances that give the industry access to reserves that were once considered uneconomic.

"After making a lot of progress in curbing flaring, it does appear that there has been a reversal in that trend in Alberta over the past five or so years," Mr. Salmon said.

"Many might think that countries like the U.S. and Canada would really be ahead of the curve in curbing flaring and having the technology to do so. This significant flaring activity here in North America I think is a cause for concern. I think it will take some concerted effort on the part of regulators, industry and stakeholders to come together to figure out how to tackle the problem."

Canada was 12th on the GGFR list of the world's top flaring countries, behind countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Angola.

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