The Minerals Management Service (MMS), the Department of the Interior agency charged with regulating offshore oil and gas production, notified operators this week that it has been using European Space Agency (ESA) satellite images to spot night time flares in the Gulf of Mexico for the last three years.
Flaring of natural gas in small quantities is sometimes necessary for testing new wells (subject to MMS approval), and may happen from time to time if there is a problem in a processing facility, but it is hardly routine. If there is flaring going on, the MMS wants to know about it.
So they check the ESA website every day, and if they spot flaring activity at an oil and gas installation, they send out a little nasty-gram:
On Saturday June 20th at 10:52:10 PM CDT a flare was detected at the your (sic) ________ site.
We are now requesting documentation of flaring activity associated with these satellite records. I am asking you to please provide specific flaring data such as rate, duration and reason for the flare.
Here is an example satellite image. Large versions are available at the ESA website (linked above).
What may not be obvious from this small-scale image is that, when it comes to hot spots, the U.S. Gulf of Mexico looks a lot like Greenland or Antarctica. For that matter, the entire U.S. looks pretty placid, given the extent of our industrialization. Even Canada, for goodness sakes, on a population basis has about 10 time the visible fires as the U.S.
There are terrific hot spots, probably representing forest fires in the Congo, Brazil, northwest Mexico and northern Australia. I'm guessing the fires in China are at industrial sites. and Siberia (more oil fields). Oil field flares of excess natural gas are clearly visible in the Middle East, Siberia, Venezuela, and in the Bay of Campeche in Mexico.
Now, tell me again how the Waxman-Markey Cap'n'Tax bill, the one that nobody has read, proposes to do anything about that?