The action released some 400 million tons of greenhouse gases worldwide last year, according to the World Bank, and researchers have warned of health problems associated with the practice.
Petroecuador hopes to find a private partner that will invest in the necessary technology to capture the 65 million cubic feet of gas that are emitted daily through burners, which constantly burn over the green canopies of the trees and modest homes in the Amazon region.
The state oil company said 15 companies have expressed interest, including Promigas SA and Gran Tierra Energy.
“Part of the recruitment process is to try to gradually and progressively eliminate these burners within the term of the judicial resolution,” Petroecuador project director Jaime Garzón told Reuters.
The goal is to start stopping lighters in inhabited areas as early as September, Garzón added, and turning off those in rural areas within two to three years, well before the court-imposed eight-year deadline.
Infrastructure to capture the gas can be set up quickly with the right company, said former energy minister Fernando Santos.
“It is more a matter of technique than of investment and if an experienced company wins the tender it will not have any problem”he added.
Petroecuador already processes some 35 million cubic feet of gas for domestic use or electricity in its operations, but hopes to eventually process all the gas emitted from its 391 flares, saving $400 million a year.
The Ministry of Energy apologized in April to the communities for the delay in extinguishing the fires.
Private operators have some 66 flares, but most of that gas is already captured to generate electricity, according to the energy ministry.
For residents of the Amazonian provinces of Sucumbíos and Orellana, change is coming slowly.
“This is going to kill us sooner,” said Fanny Tufiño, 71, whose crops are about 150 meters from a burner. “It greatly affects our health, it affected my sight.”