Recently I happened upon a thread of posts at the Google Earth Community entitled “The largest waste of energy in history”. I was initially skeptical, and still am not convinced yet it is the largest, however this is indeed a serious issue. A by-product of getting oil out of the ground is often a huge amount of toxic natural gasses. These gasses can be harmful to the oil mining process, so the oil manufacturers burn the gasses to get rid of them in a process known as “gas flares“. These are usually giant chimneys with scorching flames shooting many meters into the sky and burning toxic gas residues into our atmosphere. It turns out that BILLIONs of cubic meters of natural gas have been burned continuously around the world for decades simply because the oil manufacturers find it easier to just get the oil to make their money. The real travesty is that while trying to get to the oil, the oil industry is burning away huge amounts of energy (and polluting the atmosphere on a gigantic scale), that could be used to help provide energy (instead of using up all the oil!).
GEC member ‘spotter2′ began by posting some placemarks where you can see the flares burning in the satellite imagery in Google Earth in the Persian Gulf . But, he later started compiling examples for many countries around the globe. And, he and others have pointed out some other interesting facts.
It turns out the World Bank has an initiative called the “Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership
” to try to find a way to reduce this terrible waste of energy. They have even helped promote some data from NOAA which shows the locations of global gas flares based on night-time satellite imagery. Watch this video:
You can examine this data yourself inside Google Earth with this network link which lets you zoom in on the NOAA data. Once you locate a flare, you can turn off the link and check the underlying satellite imagery to see if you can find the flares yourself.
The best solution would be to put the natural gas to use as another energy source and properly process the energy without damaging our atmosphere (as much). There’s a company which was featured in Scientific American called Synfuels which is attempting this.
There is some data analysis from the DOE on how much energy is being wasted through gas flares. However, some GEC members have pointed out the data is based on oil industry data which is most likely using the lowest possible theoretical figures in their estimates. It would be interesting to see more scientific studies on what the environmental impact and natural gas energy waste has been through this process.