As Germany grapples with an energy crisis — due in large part to the country’s desire to curb its dependence on natural gas from Russia — Russia appears to be burning off millions of cubic meters of gas, every day, that experts say would previously have been exported to Germany.
A newly built Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Portovaya, northwest of St. Petersburg and near the border with Finland, is burning off an estimated US$10 million worth of gas daily, the BBC reported. An analysis by Rystad Energy concluded that approximately 4.34 million cubic meters of gas is being flared daily.
Miguel Berger, Germany’s ambassador to the UK, told BBC News that Russia is most likely burning off the gas because “they couldn’t sell it elsewhere,” adding that, “They don’t have other places where they can sell their gas, so they have to burn it.”
The massive amounts of gas being burned off is raising the alarm among scientists who are concerned that the burns are creating a large volume of carbon dioxide and soot which could exacerbate the melting of Arctic ice.
The burns were first noticed by Finnish citizens who, earlier this summer, noticed something was amiss when a large flame was observed on the horizon near the border.
Portovaya is where the Nord Stream 1 pipeline begins that, under normal circumstances, carries gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany.
Dr. Jessica McCarty, an expert on satellite data from Miami University in Ohio told BBC News, “I’ve never seen an LNG plant flare so much,” adding that, “Starting around June, we saw this huge peak, and it just didn’t go away. It’s stayed very anomalously high.”
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The CEO of Capterio, a company tasked with finding a solution to gas flaring, told the BBC that the flaring is not accidental and is “more likely a deliberate decision made for operational reasons.”
“Operators often are very hesitant to actually shut down facilities for fear that they may be technically difficult or costly to start up again, and it’s probably the case here,” he said.
It’s speculated that Russian energy company Gazprom may have intended to use the gas to make LNG at the plant, but had problems handling it and chose to burn it off for safety reasons or it could be the result of Europe’s trade embargo with Russia following its invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
Esa Vakkilainen, an energy engineering professor from Finland’s LUT University told the BBC, “This kind of long-term flaring may mean that they are missing some equipment,” adding that, “So, because of the trade embargo with Russia, they are not able to make the high-quality valves needed in oil and gas processing. So maybe there are some valves broken and they can’t get them replaced.”
Scientists estimate that the flaring is spewing 9,000 tons of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere every day; however, the burning is creating other issues.
While flaring gas is preferable to simply venting it, which adds methane to the atmosphere, a potent greenhouse gas, the practice also creates significant amounts of “black carbon” , a sooty particle that is produced by the incomplete burning of fuels like natural gas.
Professor Matthew Johnson, from Carleton University in Canada, told the BBC, “Of particular concern with flaring at Arctic latitudes is the transport of emitted black carbon northward where it deposits on snow and ice and significantly accelerates melting.”
According to some scientists flaring is the dominant source of black carbon found in the Arctic.