For those who do not know, flaring is the practice of burning off excess gas that is released during the assessment or production of oil and gas, as well as other industrial activities. In general, flaring is for pressure relief without simply venting dangerous chemicals to the environment.
During oil production, the associated natural gas is often flared when economic, regulatory or technical barriers to the development of gas markets and gas infrastructure prevent it from being used or when reinjecting the associated gas back into the reservoir is not possible.
The Main Reasons for Flaring Gas:
- To reduce the environmental impact of gases that otherwise would have been
vented into the atmosphere.
- To burn gas that cannot be used commercially.
- To burn gas that needs to be released for safety reasons.
Currently there are two types of flare set-ups commonly used in the oil and gas industry – enclosed and open flaring.
Enclosed Flaring Maximises Methane to Carbon Conversion
An enclosed flare surrounds the burner head with a refractory shell that is internally insulated. The shell helps to reduce noise, luminosity, and heat radiation. Enclosed flares allow better combustion by maintaining temperature, air flow and more stable combustion conditions, maximising the conversion of methane to carbon.
Open Flaring High Gas Flow Capacity
Open flaring occurs from a vertical pipe which typically has a diffuser attached to the end to promote gas combustion. Open flares have a high gas flow capacity compared with enclosed flares.
Introducing the GGFR Partnership
The World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) is a Multi-Donor Trust Fund composed of governments, oil companies, and multilateral organisations working to end routine gas flaring at oil production sites across the world. The Partnership helps identify solutions to the many technical and regulatory barriers to flaring reduction by developing country-specific flaring reduction programs, conducting research, sharing best practices, raising awareness, increasing the global commitments to end routine flaring, and advancing flare measurements and reporting.
According to the World Bank, flaring globally emits more than 350 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in a year. That is comparable to the carbon emissions of 90 coal-fired power plants, and in the U.S., flaring accounts for an estimated 9% of the greenhouse gas emissions of the oil and gas industry. So, it’s a considerable amount, and explains why environmentalists, countries and energy stakeholders are intensively perusing initiatives to reduce this figure.
Alternatives to Flaring
The good news is that there are alternatives to flaring as well as ways in which we can lessen its environmental impact. Uncaptured natural gas is a loss of a valuable product, and one of the best ways to reduce flaring is to build additional energy infrastructure such as pipelines. As every molecule of gas that flows into a pipeline is ultimately one that is delivered to a customer instead of being flared.
A lack of gas gathering lines in a region leads to flaring of natural gas at the well head, and additional pipeline infrastructure would reduce air emissions while producing a new revenue stream. Alternatively, the gas which is conventionally flared can be captured and used on site as an energy source.
Another potential solution entails injecting the otherwise stranded associated gas into underground geological systems for temporary storage, then extracting it again when a viable gas market becomes available.
Most energy producing countries and corporations have implemented initiatives to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gasses. In 2019 the UK saw a 4% reduction in the volume of gas being flared, while the Nigerian government has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2030. This pledge rises to 45% on the condition of international support. By 2050, BP aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, joining a growing list of governments and corporations committed to tackling climate change.
The need to minimise negative aspects of oil and gas operations, notably gas flaring, has been one of the most recurring and notable issues connected with the upstream petroleum sector. And even though it is currently unavoidable for safety and operational reasons, more can be done to reduce the impact on our environment and our global future, and we are all doing our part to make that happen.
Decarbonisation is possible for the industry, and it is also vital when you look at the growth of energy needs around the world.
Zero Routine Flaring by 2030
Introduced by the World Bank, which brings together governments, oil companies, and development institutions who recognise the flaring situation described above is unsustainable from a resource management and environmental perspective, and who agree to cooperate to eliminate routine flaring no later than 2030.
The Initiative pertains to routine flaring and not to flaring for safety reasons, venting is not an acceptable substitute to flaring.
The Oil Company’s 2030 Pledge
Oil companies which endorse the initiative will develop new oil fields which operate according to plans that incorporate sustainable utilisation or conservation of the field’s associated gas without routine flaring. Oil companies with routine flaring at existing oil fields they operate will seek to implement economically viable solutions to eliminate this legacy flaring as soon as possible, and no later than 2030.
A Governments 2030 Pledge
Governments that endorse the Initiative will provide a legal, regulatory, investment, and operating environment which is conducive to upstream investments and to the development of viable markets for utilisation of the gas and the infrastructure necessary to deliver the gas to market.
This will provide companies with the confidence and incentive as a basis for investing in flare elimination solutions. Governments will require, and stipulate in their new prospect offers, that field development plans for new oil fields incorporate sustainable utilisation or conservation of the field’s associated gas without routine flaring. Furthermore, governments will make every effort to ensure that routine flaring at existing oil fields end by no later than 2030.
At the time of writing this article, the next decade will prove to be one of our most challenging, yet exciting chapters. New challenges and regulatory change will yield new operational opportunities too. It is also a chance to operate less waste, while working towards a cleaner, more sustainable operational way for decades to come.