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A.M.A.Z.O.N.Y.A.

MAPPING GAS FLARING FROM BELOW

Goals and objectives


The main goal of our project was to map and to estimate potential impacts of gas flaring in and around the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve, one of the most biodiverse areas in the Amazon Rainforest and, maybe, in the world.

In order to achieve our goal, we worked on the following objectives:

  1. Map all the gas flaring sites in the Ecuadorian provinces of Orellana and Sucumbíos;

  2. Empower local people in the environmental decision making, by developing a participatory mapping process to create data above gas flaring activities;

  3. Obtain data on temperature and humidity to assess areal impacts of the gas flaring flame on the microclimate

Geographical framework


Yasuní Biosphere Reserve

Created by the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program (MAB) in 1989 in order to protect both the exceptional biological diversity and the indigenous populations which live in these uncontaminated forests, the Yasunì Biosphere Reserve (YBR) is located in the Amazon region in the provinces of Orellana, Pastaza and Napo. It comprehends 2740.409 ha. (equal to 947.000 football fields) of Humid Tropical Rainforest and other endemic ecosystems.
The Reserve is composed from a Core Area, a Buffer Zone and a Transition Area wich involve different level of protection.
Solely in the Core Area we have: 550 species of birds,150 species of amphibious, 121 species of reptiles, 382 species of fishes and 2274 species of trees. Eight animal species fall into some category of threat according to the IUCN.
The mastofauna is represented by 204 species (11 orders and 31 families). 80% of the species are nocturnal, and consist solely of large mammals. Bats are the most abundant species with a variety of habitats insectivores (Myotis sp.) and the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus), which feeds on blood. The YBR is also an important ornithological site, with 610 registered species. Guans, macaws and tou-cans are common within the forest, as well as paujiles (Crax sp., Mitu sp.), Trumpeters (Psophia crepi-tans), tinamús (Crypturellus sp., Nothoprocta sp.), and earwigs (Elanoidesforficatus). The harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja), which also inhabits the area, is the largest bird of prey in America and the second largest in the world. The most abundant amphibians are arboreal frogs (Dendropsophus sp., Hypsiboas sp. Osteocephalus sp., Scinax sp.) [1].

Yasunì ITT initiative

In 2007, an effort to protect the exceptional biological and cultural diversity and mitigate the global warming associated with fossil fuel production was presented to the United Nations by the Ecuadorian Presidency [7]. This innovative political experimentation, called the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, aimed to keep almost 1 billion barrels of crude petroleum locked underground, in the oil fields of Ishpingo, Tiputini and Tambococha in the oil block 43 (also called Block ITT), located within the core area of the UNESCO Yasuní Biosphere Reserve (RBY) [8]. Moreover, this international initiative opened possible alternatives for post-carbon and energy transition mechanisms to prevent greenhouse gas emissions and suggested the “yasunization” concept as a possibility to replicate this model in other countries. Unfortunately, in 2013, the Yasuní-ITT Initiative was officially retired by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, due to several reasons: limited financing, intense political pressures and economic drivers [9]. Thus, in 2016 begun oil extraction in the oil field Tiputini. Both the government and the state-owned oil company ensured the use of advanced and “environmental friendly” extraction technologies [10].

References:
[1] https://en.unesco.org/biosphere/lac/yasuni
[2] http://www.unesco.org
[3] https://www.pnas.org/content/106/20/8134
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nate_Saint
[5] Gobierno Autonomo Descentralizado de la provincia Sucumbios (2011), Saberes Ancestrales De Sucumbios, Nueva Loja
[6] https://conaie.org/category/nacionalidades-amazonia
[7] Bass, M.S.; Finer, M.; Jenkins, C.N.; Kreft, H.; Cisneros-Heredia, D.F.; McCracken, S.F.; Pitman, N.C.A.; English, P.H.; Swing, K.; Villa, G.; et al. Global Conservation Significance of Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park. PLoS ONE 2010, 5, e8767.
[8] Finer, M.; Moncel, R.; Program, E.; Jenkins, C.N. Leaving the Oil Under the Amazon: Ecuador’s Yasuní-ITT Initiative. Biotropica 2010, 42, 63–66
[9] Sovacool, B.K.; Scarpaci, J. Energy Justice and the Contested Petroleum Politics of Stranded Assets: Policy Insights from the Yasuní-ITT Initiative in Ecuador. Energy Policy 2016, 95, 158–171.
[10] http://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/petroamazonas-perforacion-crudo-yasuniitt.html

Gas flaring


Gas flaring is an irrational industrial practice that consists of burning waste gases on site, mostly CH4, along with fossil fuel extraction and energy production processes. It is diffused worldwide, particularly in developing countries, where oil companies do not invest in infrastructures to capture, store and re-use gas from fossil fuel extraction. Hendrick et al. (2016) defined such uncombusted gases as “unleakable carbon”, referring to ‘fugitive’, ‘leaked’, ‘vented’, ‘flared’, or ‘unintended’ GHG emissions [1]. These emission comprehend mainly CO2 produced from the combustion, and CH4 due to incomplete combustion or the extinguishing of the flame. Beyond GHG, chemical emissions include many pollutants such as sour gas with H2S and SO2, volatile organic compounds (VOCs,) Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, NOX and soot (black carbon) [2,3]. The role of the unleakable carbon in global warming is crucial: as demonstrated, CH4 has a global warming potential 86 times greater than CO2 over a 20 year time horizon, making it one of the most powerful GHGs [2].

References:
[1] Hendrick, M.F.; Cleveland, S.; Phillips, N.G. Unleakable Carbon†. Clim. Policy 2017, 17, 1057–1064
[2] Emam, E.A. Environmental Pollution and Measurement of Gas Flaring. Int. J. Innov. Res. Sci. Eng. Technol. 2016, 2, 252–262
[3] Solov’yanov, A.A. Associated Petroleum Gas Flaring: Environmental Issues. Russ. J. Gen. Chem. 2012, 81, 2531–2541
[4] IPCC. Climate Change 2013. The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 2014

Impacts on ecosystems


Impacts on the environment are mainly related to local extreme temperature anomalies and chemical pollution, which directly and indirectly affect soil systems, surface and shallow water and biodiversity, with effects at different distances from the gas flaring source[1,2,3,4,]. According to distance from the source, the heat island produced by the flared gas is a key driver of soil degradation processes, causing burnout of organic matter and, consequently, affecting soil flora and fauna [5]. Emissions in the air include H2S, NO2 and SO2, which react with water causing acid rains], heavy metals and Aromatic Polycyclic Hydrocarbons, which contaminates not only the air, but also the soil and water [2,6,7]. Unexpectedly, during our work we found tons of dead insects in the gas flaring plants surroundings: probably attracted from the light of the flame they went too near and died, presumably of drying or for the high temperatures.

References:
[1] Emam, E.A. Environmental Pollution and Measurement of Gas Flaring. Int. J. Innov. Res. Sci. Eng. Technol. 2016, 2, 252–262
[2] Saheed Ismail, O.; Umukoro, G.E.; Ismail, O.S.; Umukoro, G.E. Global Impact of Gas Flaring. Energy Power Eng. 2012, 4, 290–302.
[3] Solov’yanov, A.A. Associated Petroleum Gas Flaring: Environmental Issues. Russ. J. Gen. Chem. 2012, 81, 2531–2541
[4] Oseji, O.J. Environmental Impact of Gas Flaring within Umutu-Ebedei Gas Plant in Delta State, Nigeria. Arch. Appl. Sci. Res. 2011, 3
[5] Seiyaboh, E.I.; Izah, S.C. A Review of Impacts of Gas Flaring on Vegetation and Water Resources in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria. Int. J. Econ. Energy Environ. 2017, 2, 48–55
[6] Uzoma, H.C.; Maduka, O. Physico-Chemical Characteristics of Rainwater in a Nigerian Rural Community Experiencing Gas Flaring. J. Environ. Earth Sci. 2015, 5, 105–117
[7] Alani, R., Nwude, D., Joseph, A. et al. Impact of gas flaring on surface and underground water: a case study of Anieze and Okwuibome areas of Delta State, Nigeria. Environ Monit Assess 192, 166 (2020)

Social impacts


The main issue related to gas flaring proximity to human settlements is due to the health risks caused from chemical contamination, which is increased from local communities’ habits to employ rainwater for drinking, cooking laundry and other domestic purposes. Specifically, pollutants emitted during the flaring process and their effects include: NO which may cause lung irritation and decreased lung function; CO which may cause headache nausea, and many carcinogenic substances like Volatile Organic Compounds, heavy metals and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons released in the (frequent) cases of incomplete combustion [1,2]. Also, there are reports of increased frequency of disease types such as asthma, cough, breathing difficulty, eye and skin irritation in communities with a long gas flaring history [3]. There are also evidences that acid rains, caused from nitrates and sulphates produced during the gas combustion, may cause skin cancers, and stomach ulcers. Finally, alteration of microclimatic conditions can impact agroecosystems decreasing crop’s productivity, affecting the self-sustainment capacity of local communities [4]. From our recent analysis, we found that 10 indigenous communities, 18 populated centers and 10 schools are located in a radius of 650m from 101 gas flaring sites detected from satellite. These numbers becomes respectively 170, 187 and 274 using a radius of 5km [5].

References:
[1] Soltanieh, M., et al., A review of global gas flaring and venting and impact on the environment: Case study of Iran. Int. J. Greenhouse Gas Control, 2016, 49, 488-509
[2] Alani, R., Nwude, D., Joseph, A. et al. Impact of gas flaring on surface and underground water: a case study of Anieze and Okwuibome areas of Delta State, Nigeria. Environ Monit Assess 2020, 192, 166
[3] Gobo, A., G. Richard, and I. Ubong, “Health Impact of Gas Flares on Igwuruta/Umuechem Communities in Rivers State,” Journal of Applied Sciences and Environmental Management,2009, 13 (3), 27-33
[4] Odjugo, P.A.O.; Osemwenkhae, E.J. Natural Gas Flaring Affects Microclimate and Reduces Maize (Zea Mays) Yield. Int. J. Agric. Biol. 2009, 11, 408–412
[5] Facchinelli, F.; Pappalardo, S.E.; Codato, D.; Diantini, A.; Della Fera, G.; Crescini, E.; De Marchi, M. Unburnable and Unleakable Carbon in Western Amazon: Using VIIRS Nightfire Data to Map Gas Flaring and Policy Compliance in the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve. Sustainability 2020, 12, 58.

Impacts on microclimate


Several studies in scientific literature report impacts on local microclimate due to the gas flaring’s flames, which may reach a distance up to 2km [1,2]. However, there is a lack of data in the context of Amazon Rainforest, an environment which is particularly vulnerable to alterations involving rise of temperature and dryness [3,4].
With our work, we are trying to fill this gap. Specifically, we developed a monitoring method based on the collection of data above temperature, humidity and noise in the surroundings (5,10,20,50,80,100,150 and 200m) of 10 plants of different size. Although the data are still in an elaboration phase, this may be the first assessment of areal impacts of gas flaring in the Amazonian context, allowing for the first time an estimation of impacted areas based on ground data other than literature metrics from other contexts.

References:
[1] Anomohanran, O. Thermal Effect of Gas Flaring at Ebedei Area of Delta State, Nigeria. Pac. J. Sci. Technol. 2012, 13, 555–560
[2] Odjugo, P.A.O.; Osemwenkhae, E.J. Natural Gas Flaring Affects Microclimate and Reduces Maize (Zea Mays) Yield. Int. J. Agric. Biol. 2009, 11, 408–412
[3] McCracken SF, Forstner MRJ, Oil Road Effects on the Anuran Community of a High Canopy Tank Bromeliad (Aechmea zebrina) in the Upper Amazon Basin, Ecuador. PLoS ONE, 2014, 9(1), e85470.
[4] Laurance, W.F. et al., Ecosystem decay of Amazonian forest fragments: a 22-year investigation, Conserv. Biol. 2002, 16, 605–618

Gas flaring distribution


During our work on the field were mapped, both from our group and from local organizations which took part in the participatory mapping process, 295 gas flaring sites, with over 447 flare stacks. Of them, 341 were flaring gas, and 39 of the remaining were venting it directly in the air. For each site, we took GPS point, photo, and additional data as the height of the flare stack or the oil well to which the plant was associated. In this way produced a first independent and documented assessment of gas flaring activities in the region. Moreover, these data will allow us to further investigate the reliability of different methods to detect the gas flaring sites from satellite imagery. However, NOAA Nightfire satellite data, show that the various flaring sites contribute with very different amounts of flared volumes. For instance, a recent study of our research work shows that half of the gas flared in 2018 in the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve (about 159 Million Cubic Meter) came from only two different sites. The work was supported from “YASunidos” and “Colectivo de Geografía Crítica” del Ecuador which shared with us useful data and materials.

References:
[1] https://eogdata.mines.edu/download_global_flare.html
[2] Facchinelli, F.; Pappalardo, S.E.; Codato, D.; Diantini, A.; Della Fera, G.; Crescini, E.; De Marchi, M. Unburnable and Unleakable Carbon in Western Amazon: Using VIIRS Nightfire Data to Map Gas Flaring and Policy Compliance in the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve. Sustainability 2020, 12, 58.

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Lives Within Oil Extraction

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Deseo que siempre tengas:
Aire para respirar....
Agua para beber....
y tierra para vivir en ella
No contaminamos nuestro pianeta!

Read the article:

Facchinelli, F.; Pappalardo, S.E.; Codato, D.; Diantini, A.; Della Fera, G.; Crescini, E.; De Marchi, M.
Unburnable and Unleakable Carbon in Western Amazon: Using VIIRS Nightfire Data to Map Gas Flaring and Policy Compliance in the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve. Sustainability 2020, 12, 58.

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National Geographic for funding
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Research group “Cambiamenti climatici, territori, diversità” - Università di Padova
Unión de los Afectados y las Afectadas por las Operaciones Petroleras de Texaco - UDAPT
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