Gas flaring represents a large waste of a natural resource for energy production and is a significant source of greenhouses gases to the atmosphere. The World Bank estimates annual flared gas volumes of 150 billion cubic meters, based upon a conversion of remotely sensed radiant heat data from the NOAA’s VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument onboard the polar-orbiting Suomi NPP satellite. However, the conversion of the remotely sensed radiant heat measurements into flared gas volumes currently depends on flare operator reported volumes, which can be biased in various ways due to inconsistent reporting requirements. Here, I discuss both known and unknown biases in the datasets, using them to illustrate the current lack of accuracy in the widely discussed flaring numbers. While volume trends over time could be derived directly from the radiant heat data, absolute amounts remain questionable. Standardizing how flared gas volumes are measured and reported could dramatically improve accuracy. In addition, I suggest expanding satellite measurements of individual flares burning under controlled conditions as a major improvement to daily monitoring, alongside the potential usage of remotely sensed flare temperature to estimate combustion efficiency.
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