Correcting Recent Reporting on Offshore Flaring in Guyana

Recent reporting misrepresented SkyTruth data.

We’re always glad to have conservation-minded groups and individuals use our flaring maps, but we would like to correct some errors in how our data was interpreted in two recent articles in the Stabroek News concerning natural gas flaring from an ExxonMobil-owned vessel, the Liza Destiny, anchored off the coast of Guyana. 

In early June, 2020, the Guyana Marine Conservation Society (GMCS) contacted SkyTruth to see if we could help monitor natural-gas flaring from the Liza Destiny. The Liza Destiny had mechanical issues that required it to continuously flare, and GMCS wanted to be able to verify the flaring that ExxonMobil was reporting.

This isn’t a request that SkyTruth can normally help with, but the unique circumstances surrounding the Liza Destiny allowed us to provide GMCS with some meaningful data. Our global flaring map is a visualization of flaring events detected around the world, every day, using satellite data. The source of our data is the Earth Observation Group, which identifies flaring based on measurements of brightness and temperature captured by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites. Due to the low level of detail of these images (each pixel represents a spot on the ground about 750 meters across), we usually can’t pinpoint flaring to a specific source such as an individual oil or gas well. However, since there were no other flaring vessels near the Liza Destiny, we could confidently assign all flaring events within the satellite’s accuracy to this vessel. 

In mid-July, GMCS asked for an update containing the most recent data, which we provided by way of this document. The ensuing article in Stabroek News on July 25, 2020, erroneously claimed that our data showed the Liza Destiny was flaring from June 27 through July 7, a period when ExxonMobil reported to the Guyana EPA that there was no flaring because the vessel was undergoing maintenance.

Contrary to what the article suggests, the data SkyTruth provided did not contradict ExxonMobil. Our data did not show flaring on these dates, with the exception of June 28. It’s important to note that the lack of flaring in our data for that time period doesn’t conclusively prove there was no flaring, because clouds can block the satellites ability to “see” flares. 

And none of this is to imply that there are not legitimate concerns about the persistent, long-term flaring at this vessel documented in the data we shared with GMCS. 

New Oil and Gas Flaring Data Available

Updated data means anyone can see where, and how much, natural gas is being flared in their area.

SkyTruth has updated its Annual Flare Volume map to include 2017 and 2018 data. We first launched the map in 2017 to provide site specific estimates of the annual volume of gas flared during oil and gas production worldwide.

What is flaring?

Flaring is the act of burning off excess natural gas from oil wells when it can’t economically be stored and sent elsewhere. Flaring is also used to burn gases that would otherwise present a safety problem. But flaring from oil wells is a significant source of greenhouse gases. The World Bank estimated that 145 billion cubic meters of natural gas were flared in 2018; the equivalent of the entire gas consumption of Central and South America combined. Gas flaring also can negatively affect wildlife, public health, and even agriculture.

What can I do?

SkyTruth’s map allows users to search the data by virtually any geographic area they’re interested in, then easily compare and download flare volume totals from 2012 through 2018 to observe trends. In addition, it separates flaring into upstream (flaring of natural gas that emerges when crude oil is brought to the Earth’s surface), downstream oil (refineries) and downstream gas (natural gas processing facilities). Residents, researchers, journalists and others concerned about gas emissions in their city or study area can easily determine the sources of the problem using the latest data available, and how much gas has been flared.

VIIRS Satellite Instrument and the Earth Observation Group

The data we use in the SkyTruth map is a product of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) satellite instrument, which produces the most comprehensive listing of gas flares worldwide. VIIRS data has moved to a new home this year at the Earth Observation Group in the Colorado School of Mines’ Payne Institute for Public Policy. SkyTruth also uses the VIIRS nightfire data in its popular flaring visualization map.

Thanks to the Earth Observation Group for continuing to make the nightfire data freely available to the public! They have authored the following papers for those interested in the VIIRS instrument and how the flare volume is calculated.

Elvidge, C. D., Zhizhin, M., Hsu, F -C., & Baugh, K. (2013).VIIRS nightfire: Satellite pyrometry at night. Remote Sensing 5(9), 4423-4449.

Elvidge, C. D., Zhizhin, M., Baugh, K. E, Hsu, F -C., & Ghosh, T. (2015). Methods for global survey of natural gas flaring from Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite Data. Energies, 9(1), 1-15.

Elvidge, C. D., Bazilian, M. D., Zhizhin, M., Ghosh, T., Baugh, K., & Hsu, F. C. (2018). The potential role of natural gas flaring in meeting greenhouse gas mitigation targets. Energy Strategy Reviews, 20, 156-162.

Global Flaring Volume Map

Interactive Map Detects Gas Flaring Volume Worldwide

SkyTruth has built on NOAA’s work in estimating natural gas flaring volume by creating an interactive map showing individual flaring locations as identified by NOAA’s Earth Observation Group (EOG).

Flaring – the method of burning off the unwanted natural gas in massive, open flames – is a chronic practice in oil fields around the world. While flaring can be a safety measure used to avoid buildup of explosive gases, it often indicates the operator has concluded the cost of building a pipeline for the gas exceeds the value of the lost revenue. If this gas was captured or used to produce electricity on-site, this wasted energy could supplement the electrical grid without burning coal and ease the market demand that drives the drilling and fracking of shale-gas wells elsewhere.

Why are site-specific estimates important? Besides providing knowledge of the locations and magnitudes of greenhouse gas emissions, gas flaring has been shown to affect wildlife, public health, and even agriculture negatively.

SkyTruth’s map makes site data available over virtually any Area of Interest (AOI). As of November 2017, the dataset includes annual estimates for years 2012 through 2016.

Global Flaring Volume Map

With a few clicks, the SkyTruth map lets you:

  • Visually see the location of each flaring site
  • Click for details from the EOG dataset
  • Identify custom Area of Interests (AOI) by either drawing on the map, selecting a range of preloaded AOIs (Country, State, County, Province, Federal Lands), or uploading your own GeoJSON file
  • Download flaring data that falls within any AOI

You can view this map yourself at https://viirs.skytruth.org/apps/heatmap/flarevolume.html.

A description of how EOG estimates flaring volume is detailed in this paper. Details of the nightfire algorithm that detects hot sources from the VIIRS instrument can be found in this paper.

 

Global Flaring Map Reset

The wasteful practice of flaring off natural gas from oil and gas fields is again making news, coinciding with a new release of SkyTruth’s Global Flaring Map that visualizes gas flaring activity around the globe. This map relies on the Nightfire data provided by NOAA’s Earth Observation Group, which has written extensively about their work detecting and characterizing sub-pixel hot sources using multispectral data collected globally, each night, by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) aboard the Suomi-NPP satellite. Read about the algorithm that creates Nightfire data here and methods for estimating flared gas volumes here.

SkyTruth’s enhanced map has these added features:

  • NOAA has published two additional years of flaring data, allowing our map to extend back to March 2012.
  • A location search box lets you go directly to a city, state, country, landmark, etc.
  • Date range selection helps you limit the visualization to the time-frame of interest.
  • You can identify your rectangular Area of Interest and download flaring data within that AOI (works best in Chrome browsers).
  • We’ve caught up with NOAA’s daily download after adjusting to recent changes in their web security.


About our Global Flaring Map

Please read about some of the uses for this map and how SkyTruth processes NOAA’s data in this original post describing our map. If you don’t see a flaring detection you expected to see, consider the caveats:  some flares don’t burn hot enough to be included in our dataset, they may not have been burning when the satellite passed overhead, the flare may not be frequent enough to make it past the 3 detection threshold, heavy clouds may have obscured the flare from the sensor, etc.

If you find this map useful, drop us an email at info@skytruth.org to let us know.

Why Flaring is In the News Again

In November 2016 the Interior Department announced a new Methane and Waste Prevention Rule to reduce wasteful flaring and leaks of natural gas from oil and gas operations on public and Indian lands. Although Congress tried repealing the rule after the 2016 elections, that effort failed to advance out of the Senate after a May 2017 vote.

Despite the Senate’s action to keep the methane rule, the Environmental Protection Agency just announced (as of 6/15/2017) they would suspend implementation of the rule for 90 days — an action leading environmental groups claim is unlawful.

SkyTruth Releases Dynamic Map of Global Flaring

SkyTruth is releasing a dynamic map of satellite data visualizing the wasteful practice of natural gas flaring around the world. The SkyTruth Global Flaring Visualization compiles nightly infrared data from NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite, and filters it to display gas flares associated with oil and gas production. The map is a direct result of a crowdfunded groundtruthing mission last year in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale where flares light up the night sky.

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Flaring from a Bakken shale wellpad just outside Williston, North Dakota, as seen by a camera aboard a high-altitude balloon launched by SkyTruth and Space for All in Sept. 2013.

“This new tool makes the scale and frequency of flaring more comprehensible and less abstract,” said Paul Woods, Chief Technology Officer at SkyTruth. “Hopefully, enabling everyone to see where, when, and how often operators are flaring will create public pressure on government and industry to reduce the waste of this hard-won natural resource,” Woods continued.

Also released today, SkyTruth’s partners at Earthworks have produced a report on flaring in the Bakken and Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale, finding that North Dakota drillers have reported burning $854 million in natural gas since 2010 and that neither state independently tracks how much gas has been lost forever through flaring. Earthworks also calculated that the 130 billion cubic feet of natural gas burned in the Bakken and Eagle Ford Shale has produced the equivalent of 1.5 million cars’ emissions of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas.

Click here to learn more about “Up in Flames: U.S. Shale Oil Boom Comes at Expense of Wasted Natural Gas, Increased Carbon Dioxide”

SkyTruth’s flaring map puts these enormous numbers in perspective, and can enable regulators and citizen watchdogs to see if companies really are taking action to reduce the occurrence of flaring. Click below for more information and to see a full-screen version of the map.