By Jessica Chen
(Reuters) - A World Bank initiative to eliminate the waste and pollution of routine gas flaring remains unsigned by some of the main countries involved, undermining industry demands this week for special treatment on the grounds gas is cleaner than coal.
Countries yet to sign a pledge to eliminate routine flaring by 2030 include major flarers the United States, Iran and Nigeria, the bank said, noting that the practice wastes enough energy to supply Africa with electricity and pollutes as much as 77 million cars.
"By capturing this gas and converting it into a useful product, such as converting it into power, they could be earning money for it, so it's win-win in that sense," senior World Bank director Anita Marangoly George said at the 2015 World Gas Conference in Paris.
"Also, they avoid greenhouse gas emissions, which is good for the environment, good for the image, and many of the companies have a goal of sustainability, and this fits right into that goal."
The bank said it had signed up 10 governments and 10 oil companies to the project, representing about 44 percent of global gas flaring, but said it had a target of 80 percent.
Gas, when produced as a byproduct of crude oil, is routinely flared to dispose of it, especially offshore and in places where there is no ready market for the gas.
Not burning it would be an explosion risk and releases methane, also a pollutant, into the atmosphere.
Among the alternatives to flaring are converting gas into transportable fuel liquids and harnessing it for use in power generation on site.
However, "(companies) haven't created the space to think about what is possible to capture," said Martin Layfield, sector director at DNV-GL, an oil industry consultancy group that has produced a study of flaring alternatives.
According to Layfield, now is the right time to push flaring alternatives forward amid international pressure to reduce emissions ahead of U.N. climate talks in Paris in December.
Jerome Schmitt, executive vice-president of sustainable development at French group Total, said: "If we don't improve together on flaring and methane production emission, we will not be able to claim that gas is twice as good as coal in power generation."
Total is among the oil companies that have signed up to the initiative.
(Editing by Andrew Callus)