Colombia’s Coincident Challenges: Forest Fires, Hydropower and Gas Flaring

Climate change makes our world more complicated. Colombia is a case in point where El Niño is increasingly changing weather patterns, reducing rainfall and hydroelectric power, and generating forest fires. One solution is to harness wasted gas – bringing power to communities and reducing emissions.

In the face of our warming planet, the intricate web of environmental, economic, and social challenges we encounter grows ever more complex. Among these challenges, climate change stands as a formidable force, driving shifts in weather patterns and exacerbating natural disasters. Central to understanding this multifaceted crisis is the phenomenon of El Niño, a climate pattern that significantly alters global weather. El Niño events, characterised by the warming of ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific, have far-reaching impacts, including altered precipitation patterns across the globe. This intricate dance between ocean and atmosphere shifts weather patterns and has dire consequences for ecosystems and human societies.

One of the most immediate and visually devastating impacts of these altered weather patterns is the increase in forest fires, particularly in, for example, Colombia. The El Niño phenomenon often leads to drier air and reduced rainfall, creating conditions ripe for wildfires. These fires not only destroy forests, but they also contribute significantly to carbon emissions, further exacerbating the cycle of climate change. Colombia, with its rich biodiversity and extensive forested areas, has been particularly vulnerable to this increase in forest fires, witnessing both the loss of its natural heritage and the displacement of communities.

El Niño is also impacting water supplies, with implications on agriculture and hydroelectric power generation. Hydro, which historically generates 70% of Colombia’s electricity is now heavily constrained, leading to increased grid instability, reduced power export (e.g. to Ecuador – which itself is drought-stricken), impacting industry and consumers alike, and leading to increased rationing of power and water. It’s also incentivising increased burning of diesel to generate power (for local operations, and for the grid), imports of LNG, and use of coal 1 – all of which in turn increases greenhouse gas emissions.

Interestingly, amidst these challenges lies a potential solution that could, metaphorically, square the circle: the reduction of gas flaring. Gas flaring (the practice of burning off excess natural gas), is a significant source of economic and environmental waste. By fixing it (and associated venting and leaking), Colombia could capture 0.8 BCM per year, improve national revenues by some $150 million and reduce 10+ million CO2-equivalent tonnes of avoidable emissions. Since this gas is being burned already, why not capture it and consume it in a value-adding way? And by capturing and utilising this gas to generate electricity presents a dual opportunity: reducing emissions and supplementing the power grid. Fortunately in many cases, projects that use proven technology to capture this gas also deliver attractive commercial returns.

By embracing strategies that reduce emissions and enhance energy security, such as the reduction of gas flaring, we can begin to square the circle, turning the challenges of today into the opportunities of tomorrow.

Above: map of flaring in northern South America from FlareIntel Pro. FlareIntel tracks every gas flare, for every asset, every company, in every country, every day.

[And finally – for interested parties – there’s another link between flaring and forest fires. We detect both with FlareIntel, based on their thermal anomaly. Email to find out more.]


[Picture credit: Dall-E]