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Snuffed-Out Flares Are Biggest Methane Offender, Satellites Show

  • Asia is biggest source of leaks by far, GHGSat data show
  • Methane is under scrutiny amid climate change concerns
Flames flare up at a refinery in Torrance, California.

Flames flare up at a refinery in Torrance, California.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
Updated on

Hiccups in the process of burning off excess natural gas from oil wells and industrial facilities are to blame for the world’s worst methane leaks, according to a satellite tracking company.

Flaring is meant to convert gas into carbon dioxide instead of releasing methane, a more potent greenhouse gas over 20 years, directly into the atmosphere. But high winds and equipment malfunctions can extinguish the flame. Those unlit flares are the biggest source of methane emissions globally, preliminary data from GHGSat Inc. show. The largest leaks come from Asia, far exceeding the Permian Basin, the most prolific U.S. oil patch.