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Mexican president promises to tackle high and rising rates of gas flaring

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By Ana Isabel Martinez and Stefanie Eschenbacher

MEXICO CITY, June 16 (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday that he had discussed high - and rising - levels of natural gas flaring across the country during a meeting this week with U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, and promised to curb the practice.

Despite his pledges to reduce the activity that scientists have linked to global warming, Mexico last year burned off record levels of gas and at an increasing number of locations.

"We discussed this topic with Mr. Kerry and we're already working on two programs to reduce the flaring of gas," Lopez Obrador said, without giving details, after he was asked during his regular news conference about an incident in the Gulf of Mexico where scientists found a massive methane leak.

To minimize its harmful impact, gas is often flared when it comes to the surface as a byproduct of oil production where it is considered too expensive to build infrastructure to capture, process and pipe it away.

But gas flaring still releases some methane as well as carbon dioxide, black carbon and other pollutants.

"It's something that we're already dealing with because it's the most irrational thing that can happen: to be buying gas and having to burn it here, with the contamination that it implies," Lopez Obrador added.

Last week, a report published by the European Space Agency highlighted the risks associated with the practice.

Using satellite data, researchers found state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos had released thousands of tons of methane gas into the atmosphere from a platform in the Gulf of Mexico during 17 days last December.

The leak was likely down to "abnormal process conditions at the site" like malfunctions or equipment issues, it concluded.

The scientists sounded an alarm too. "If more flares have malfunctions, massive venting episodes like this could potentially also happen more frequently," said Daniel Zavala from the Environmental Defense Fund, who worked on the study. (Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez and Stefanie Eschenbacher; editing by Grant McCool)