Posted: November 3, 2013
Gas flaring is a controlled burning off of natural gas from an oil or gas well for a variety of reasons. When a well is drilled, a temporary flare can be used for well production testing to determine pressure, flow and composition of the gas from the well. Flaring can be used as a safety mechanism in emergency situations to quickly lower pressure. Small amounts of waste gas may be flared if it can’t be efficiently captured during the compression and processing phase. These flares are not typically seen from a distance. Flaring can occur in the absence of pipeline or processing plants to capture the gas. Oil wells may have the lower market value gas flared off rather than capturing if the infrastructure is not available to capture.
Flaring occurrences and regulations vary across the United States. In Texas, the Railroad Commission of Texas, who oversees oil and gas regulations, allows operators to flare gas for up to 10 days after a well’s completion to conduct well testing, or up to 180 days if there is pipeline capacity is being expanded to cover the increase in production. In Ohio, the Ohio EPA regulates flaring. In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) oversees flaring. Less flaring is seen in these states as they build out with more infrastructure. In North Dakota, flaring of 30% of all North Dakota gas from mainly oil wells in the Bakken has been highly publicized as infrastructure is not in place and the interest in the higher market value oil is in the spotlight. (This is about 0.33% of all US produced natural gas).
The US EPA passed the New Source Performance Standards (PSPS) and the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) in April 2012 that require oil and gas operators to reduce air emissions from drilling and hydraulic fracturing. By January 2015, the law will require well operators to use green completions rather than releasing the gas to the atmosphere.
Worldwide, the Global Gas Flaring Reduction (GGFR) partnership created in 2002. This partnership of government officials form oil-producing countries, state-owned companies and major international oil companies looks at overcoming barriers to reduce gas flaring by sharing global best practices, promoting effective regulatory frameworks and overcoming constraints on gas utilizations, such as lack of infrastructure. Data on flared volumes by country and year can be found on their website.
Two companies in Bismarck ND are producing generators that run on natural gas rather than diesel or gasoline. The generators are ideal for wells in remote areas and can be rented for less than the cost of diesel fuel. A machine called the Vortex separates byproducts such as ethane, propane, butane and natural gasoline can help reduce the amount of energy flared off by about 40%. This equipment is used in Texas and is being looked at for use in North Dakota. Such innovations could help to reduce gas flaring in remote areas.