Flaring Maps and Data

SkyTruth’s flaring maps show satellite detections of natural gas flaring across the entire planet.

Tim Evanson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Flaring Maps and Data

SkyTruth’s flaring maps show satellite detections of natural gas flaring across the entire planet.

Tim Evanson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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. 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.

Methane and other gases are frequently flared from oil wells because it is cheaper to burn it off than to recover it – at least when the well is primarily producing oil. Flaring is also used while drilling new wells and at refineries to prevent an explosive buildup of gases. However, flaring wastes colossal amounts of energy. The New York Times reported in 2011 that in North Dakota alone, the amount of natural gas flared daily is enough to heat half a million homes, and every year puts as much carbon dioxide into the air as 384,000 cars.

Flaring Maps

SkyTruth produces two flaring maps, both of which are based on Nightfire data captured by the VIIRS instrument aboard NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite. This data is made available free from the Earth Observation Group, Payne Institute for Public Policy, Colorado School of Mines.

Natural Gas Flaring Map

This is a map of natural gas flaring across the entire planet. It is updated daily to add new infrared detections that are hot enough to be considered gas flares.

This map is not a direct representation of the Nightfire data. Instead, we cluster Nightfire flaring both spatially and temporally, creating an enhanced visualization of flaring at any location around the world.

There is more information about how SkyTruth processes and presents this data on the map in the FAQ below.

Annual Flaring Volume Map

Creation of annual flaring volume data was a project jointly undertaken from 2012-2015 by both the NOAA Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) Proving Ground Program and the World Bank Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR). The data continues to be maintained by the Earth Observation Group.

SkyTruth adds value to EOG’s data by allowing filtering, viewing and downloading of the data by country, state, county, U.S. federal lands, Canadian provinces, or for any area drawn directly on the map. Statistics are then available for these smaller areas.

EOG’s data can be downloaded by clicking the “Data files download” link at the bottom of this page. You can also download data once you’ve identified a smaller area (as described in the above paragraph). First click on a selection to view statistics, then the “download” link shown just below the statistics and over the plot

Flaring Monthly Summaries

A summary of monthly methane flaring activity can be viewed or downloaded from SkyTruth Alerts. The source of this layer is the VIIRS Nightfire data produced by the Earth Observation Group (EOG) at the Colorado School of Mines.

For more information, read the blog post or the help doc on how to access the data.

Questions about Flaring

The data for this map was originally made available by NOAA’s Earth Observation Group. As of 15 October 2019, the data is now freely-available from Earth Observation Group (EOG), Payne Inst. for Public Policy, Colorado School of Mines.

The Earth Observation Group 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.

Here are a few things that we do at SkyTruth to process and present the data on the Flaring Map.

For each daily Nightfire file we process:

  • We eliminate temperatures under 1,773 kelvin (1,500 celsius).
  • For each day, we merge VIIRS Nightfire detections that are within 1500m of each other. This accounts for the 750m at-nadir resolution of the VIIRS instrument, which is the source of Nightfire detections. When two nearby detections are merged, we average their longitude, latitude, Radiant Output and Temperature, and we sum their Radiative Heat and Footprint.

To create the data used in the flaring map:

  • For each new location in the flaring records from step 1, we total the number of flaring records (also from step 1 for prior dates) that are within 925m of the new location in the previous 30 days. 
  • If the count is 3 or more, we create a flaring location for the map. The location is the centroid of the matching flaring from the previous 30 days. The downloaded file contains data (Radiant Output, Temperature, etc.) that is carried over from the step 1 records.

The data are limited in the extreme northern and southern latitudes due to extreme solar illumination and atmospheric conditions.

There was no data available from NOAA between Sept. 29 – Oct. 16, 2013.

In December 2017, the VIIRS instrument began collecting Nightfire data with an additional spectral band. This change resulted in many more high-temperature determinations, which you can see reflected in the timeline as an abrupt increase in apparent flaring activity.

Applications for this map include:

  •  Demonstrating the tremendous amount of natural gas flaring around the world.
  •  Learning if flaring is a chronic problem in your community or places you care about.
  • Tracking active drilling in gas-producing regions where flaring occurs during the drilling and completion of wells.
  • Verifying when petrochemical facilities were flaring in order to aid identifying the source of noxious air emissions polluting fence-line communities.
  • Holding companies accountable for wasting public and private resources through routine flaring.
  • Informing public health research on the impacts of flaring on respiratory health and other disciplines.
  •  Let us know how you could use flaring detections to skytruth an issue in your community.

Verified on the ground by a team we sent out North Dakota’s Bakken Shale and further cross-referenced against aerial and satellite imagery of other flaring hotspots such as Russia, Africa, and the Middle East, this map is updated daily to show the frequency of infrared detections hot enough to be gas flares.

If you don’t see a flaring detection you expected to see, it may be because of the ways that we process and present the flaring data. 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 have obscured the flare from the sensor, etc.

SkyTruth’s dataset is a highly processed version of the EOG Nightfire data made especially for the flaring map. While it does not reflect all of the flaring details present in the Nightfire dataset, it can still be useful for analyzing local trends. To receive a copy of this dataset, email support@skytruth.org and ask for the most recent flaring map dataset.

See “How does the map data get processed?” above for details on how we create the file.

Here is what you’ll find in the download:

EOG Reference UOM SkyTruth Spreadsheet EOG Description
RHI W/m2 Radiant Output IR-source radiant heat intensity (derived using Nightfire algorithm)
RH MW Radiative Heat IR-source radiant heat (derived using Nightfire algorithm)
Temp_BB EOG: ° Kelvin
SkyTruth: ° Celsius
Temperature IR-source temperature assuming blackbody source (derived using Nightfire algorithm)
Area_BB m2 Footprint Area of IR-source assuming blackbody source (derived using Nightfire algorithm)

Flaring Blog Posts

That’s not Atlantis, it’s just a bunch of human-made structures at sea

SkyTruth’s offshore infrastructure dataset can help identify areas at high risk of oil pollution events.

Although anyone can go to Google Maps and find most buildings in the world, we can’t do the same for infrastructure at sea. SkyTruth and our partners at Global Fishing Watch were inspired by this problem and created a dataset that allows us to locate offshore infrastructure. By applying three criteria, intern Breanna Xiong identified structures that have a high, medium, or low likelihood of being related to oil and gas production. This can make monitoring for oil pollution and identifying sources more efficient, and support SkyTruth's project Cerulean.

Monthly Methane Flaring Summary Data Now Available in Alerts

New SkyTruth Alerts layer helps pollution trackers quantify flaring trends.

Those tracking methane flaring will want to try the newest layer in SkyTruth Alerts: a summary of monthly flaring activity that can be based on your current map view or selected Areas of Interest. Learn how in this post.

The trouble with methane

Methane leaks from oil and gas operations are a big problem for climate. Solutions are coming.

Over the 162 years since the world’s first commercial oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania, a vast network of oil and gas wells, pipelines, pumping stations, storage tanks, refineries, and distribution lines has been built. And this network -- including the modern pieces -- is riddled with leaks. That’s a big problem, because methane in the air absorbs heat from the sun, warming up our atmosphere.