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:
  • We eliminate detections under 1,500º Celsius to remove “cooler” heat sources like forest fires.
  • The data are limited in the extreme northern and southern latitudes due to extreme solar illumination and atmospheric conditions.
  • In order to eliminate spurious results in the temperate and tropical regions, we filter out locations that have fewer than 3 detections in the previous 30 days, based on the date shown on the map. For all locations where there are at least 3 detections in the previous 30 days, we display each detection on the day it was recorded.
  • Detections within 926 meters of each other are adjusted to a spatial average of all detections in the previous 30 days, to allow for the coarse ~750 meter resolution of the sensor. This spatial clustering process means that separate flaring sources that are close together may get displayed as a single flaring location on our map.
  • 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.

Flaring Blog Posts

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. 

Fracking in Suburbia

What do you do when big oil moves in next door?

Three women shared their stories with a group of journalists and others attending the Society of Environmental Journalists 2019 meeting in Fort Collins, Colorado last month. Fort Collins sits right next to Weld County – the most prolific county in Colorado for oil and gas production and among the most prolific in the entire United States. There, hydraulic fracturing (mostly for oil) has boomed, along with a population surge that is gobbling up farmland and converting open space into subdivisions. Often, these two very different types of development occur side-by-side.

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. 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.