In addition to contributing planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, routine gas flaring can harm the health of people who live near gas sites. It also wastes a potentially useful energy source, a problem that is especially acute in poorer countries.
According to the World Bank report, 700 million people currently lack steady access to energy, and more than 620 million, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa, could still be without reliable power in 2030.
Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer and the biggest gas-flaring country in the sub-Saharan region, has reduced gas burning by 70 percent in the last 15 years, the World Bank report said. That reduction was partly because of projects that have helped the country convert waste gas into liquid fuels for exports.
Recently, though, Nigeria has struggled, with gas flaring volumes rising slightly between 2018 and 2019. A promise to eliminate flaring by 2020 never materialized and two other deadlines, one in 2004 and another in 2008, were also missed. The pandemic has also slowed projects aimed at capturing more gas.
But the main problem, according to Afolabi Elebiju, a corporate lawyer based in Lagos who follows the energy industry, is that under Nigerian law, which is often weakly enforced, unauthorized flaring carries relatively light penalties.
Mr. Elebiju called flaring “a monster” in Nigeria. “The government is thinking, ‘If we drive these guys too hard, they will run away,’” he said, referring to foreign oil companies operating in Nigeria. “But in many other countries where they are forceful, operators are complying, including in their own home countries.”