A new Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant based in Portovaya, north-west of Saint Petersburg, has been burning off an estimated €9.76m worth of natural gas every day, the BBC has reported, which the plant would have previously exported to Germany.
Finnish citizens reported first signs of the unprecedented burning, who saw a large flame from the plant some months ago. Since June, researchers have noted a significant increase in heat emitting from the facility; although gas flaring is a common process in LNG plants, the amount of burning is unparalleled. Dr. Jessica McCarty, a satellite data expert, told the BBC “I’ve never seen an LNG plant flare so much. Starting around June we saw this huge peak, and it just didn’t go away. It’s stayed very anomalously high.”
German ambassador to the UK, Miguel Berger, expressed that reduced European reliance on Russian gas were having a strong effect on the Russian economy. “They don’t have other places where they can sell their gas, so they have to burn it”, he believes.
On the other hand, Mark Davis, CEO of Capterio, a company involved in researching alternatives to gas flaring, believes that the gas burning is due to operators’ hesitance to shut down facilities, as it may be technically difficult, or costly to restart.
Other possible reasons for the excessive flaring could be the large volumes of gas that were being supplied to the Nord Stream 1 pipeline (which transports gas to Germany), Europe’s trade embargo with Russia upon the invasion of Ukraine, or safety concerns after potential problems arose regarding the handling of the gas at the new plant.
Nevertheless, as expressed by Sindre Knutsson from Rystad Energy, this occurrence is undeniably serving as a reminder of Russia’s dominance in Europe’s energy markets. Russia had supplied 40% of the gas used in the EU before governments implemented alternative sources of gas – energy prices increased as a result.
Although flaring is less environmentally damaging than venting the methane (a key ingredient in LNG), scientists have noted concerns about the levels of carbon dioxide and soot that the plant is secreting. It is estimated that around 9,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent are released daily from the burning.
While the reasons behind the flaring is not confirmed, gas burning and similar practices have an undeniable effect on the environment, and many socio-economic relations worldwide can promote the damage caused.