Huge Waste of Energy Visible in Google Earth

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!).

Gas Flares in Google Earth

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.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. That is really sad,,
    Maybe if you have the Lat/Long we can create a link in EarthTwit and update the post to see the waste live.

  2. SHuelin says:

    Humans must stop wasting these valuable resources.

  3. In a way, the flaring of natural gas has no more impact on the environment in terms of global warming than piping it for domestic and industrial use a few weeks later, But using the flared gas could at least defer other harmful impact.
    Nevertheless, GE can have a hugely important role in opening eyes to the scale and pace of environmental change on a global scale. From huge strip mines, to forest clearance and destructive forms of agriculture, to desrtification, and most of all to urbanization and urban expansion – a reflection of the almost taboo issue of the pressures from population growth.
    Hopefully GEC members will put together many more examples of environmental issues.

  4. Flaring is part of the refining and pipeline process. It serves to reduce safety risk by reducing pressure within the pipelines and within refineries. In most places flaring is not continuous. It only happens when pressure and safety risk increases.
    Here are some info.

  5. Frank Taylor says:

    @Jeff_Thurston: Yes, that summary from Wikipedia was linked in my article. The article also states that: “Flaring and venting of natural gas in oil wells is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.” The article also claims the amount of waste has reduced by 75% since the 70s, but this is based on data provided by the oil industry (according to other sources in the post thread).

  6. Here is an EarthTwit link to some of the Gas flares!

  7. As flaring has gotten “cleaner and greener”, temperatures have risen dramatically. To prevent injuries, a Heat Suppression Safety System is required. Be Safe:

  8. Get A Trip says:

    Some of the other commentors seem to know more about the technology end of this “Flaring,” but I can’t help marvel on what a tool this Google Earth really is. If we can pinpoint the environmental “wasters,” and make it public such as this post, well it can only be one giant leap towards a solution of correcting it. This is exciting!

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.