By William Helms
Since 2018, the United States has been putting pressure on Iraq to move toward energy independence. Iraq currently imports the majority of its natural gas from Iran, which is then burned for electricity. However, as a biproduct of its oil production, Iraq already flares the second most natural gas in the world as of 2018 per data from NOAA with assistance from VIIRS Nightfire (VNF). According to one article by Arwa Ibrahim on Aljazeera.com, the pressure from the US is believed to be an attempt to limit Iran’s influence in Iraq as well as a way for US companies to penetrate the Iraqi markets. However, regardless of the political and economic reasons, a positive side effect for the environment would be helping move toward the World Bank’s goal to have no more planned gas flaring by 2030. Capturing and reusing the gas, as opposed to just burning it on site, would help reduce the impact of greenhouse gases currently being created in Iraq. According to an article in S&P Global from June 22, 2020, capturing 30%-40% of currently flared gas could generate 3.3GW of electricity, meaning if it all were captured it could generate around 10GW of the 16.77GW currently generated by Iraq.
The image above shows VNF data from July 20, 2020. It illustrates how common gas flaring is in Iraq as the red and yellow dots show heat signatures in the common range for gas flaring (1500+ K). The gas being burned at each of these sites could potentially be harnessed, refined, and used for electricity in Iraq. According to The World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership, Iraq flared 17,914,000,000 m3 of gas in 2019.