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Egypt: Clearer thinking

The country has committed itself to reducing the volume of associated gas that’s flared at oilfields

No visitor to Cairo or any other city in Egypt can help noticing the air pollutionthe perennial smog that chokes the lungs as much as it obscures the view of the Pyramids and other tourist sites.

While there's no magic solution, the Egyptian authorities are taking steps that should eventually help to ease the problem. In Cairo earlier this month, energy minister Tarek El Molla committed his country to a target of eliminating the flaring of associated gas at its oilfields over the coming decade. Egypt is signing up to Zero Routine Flaring by 2030, a global initiative to limit environmental damage caused by the oil industry.

Molla made the announcement during a workshop in Cairo organised by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to discuss ways of reducing flaring. EBRD's natural resources director Eric Rasmussen said: "gas flaring is not only a climate-change hazard. It is also a waste of an important resource that could be better used to improve economic and social activities." Including tourism, he might have added.

Economic damage

There's no doubt that Egypt's gas flaring is damaging the economy. Egypt stands 11th in the table of the top gas-flaring countries in the world. Each year, more than 2bn cubic metres of gas is flared. If this could be captured and processed, the saved gas could supply around 5% of the nation's energy needs and add $300m to the country's purse.

The EBRD funded a study which produced recommendations for gas-flaring regulatory reform that would encourage increased use of associated gas. The study builds on previous assistance from the European bank to identify viable technical solutions to reduce flaring. Other recommendations, according to EBRD, include "steps to strengthen the framework for monitoring and reporting gas flaring, underpinned by adopting industry-wide standards for measurement."

Gas flaring is a problem across the Middle East. Iraq is top of the regional list, second only to Russia in the global table of gas-flaring offenders, burning respectively 16bn cm/y and 21bn cm/year respectively. Iran is in third place with 12bn cm/y.

Egypt's decision to sign up to the 2030 target for ending routine flaring won't mean that the Pyramids will suddenly be seen sharply etched on the horizon. But it does mean that Cairo and other cities can look forward to a day when the choke-inducing smog begins to thin a little.

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