Collection of Flare Gas;  how to prevent waste of resources and environmental damages

Introduction

Flare gases are associated gas with oil and gas and are burned in their raw form at oil and gas facilities during extraction or refining. The practice has persisted since the beginning of oil production over 160 years ago to this day because it is a relatively safe, though wasteful and polluting, method of disposing of the associated gas that comes from oil production. However, the reason that flaring is still in use at present is due to a range of issues, from market and economic constraints, to a lack of appropriate regulation and political will or to the absence of appropriate facilities for collection and utilization. Flaring is a waste of a valuable natural resource that should either be used for productive purposes, such as generating power, or conserved. These gases consist of significant amounts of greenhouse gases, including methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide.[1]

Effects

Environmental Effects: The combustion of flare gases has notable environmental consequences, including an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Flare gases, in particular, contain substantial amounts of greenhouse gases. For instance, methane is present in large quantities within flare gases. Methane, being a highly potent greenhouse gas, possesses 25 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide.

Pollution: increasing the emission of these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, can lead to the aggravation of climate change. Air pollution and disease Combustion of flare gases produces air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and dioxins. These pollutants can cause health problems, including heart and lung disease, cancer and premature death.

Economic effects: Economic losses due to waste of resources. Flares are a valuable energy source. Burning these gases causes waste of resources and loss of economic opportunities.

International Dimensions

The burning of flare is a global issue prevalent in numerous oil and gas-producing countries. According to a UN report from 2020, approximately 140 billion cubic meters of flare gases were burned worldwide, equivalent to 2% of the global natural gas production (which for example could power the whole of sub-Saharan Africa).[2] That means putting into the atmosphere the equivalent of over 400m tons of carbon dioxide which is equivalent to the carbon dioxide emitted in 9 trillion miles of car journeys. In recent years there has been a growing focus on the international collection of flare gases. This heightened attention is a response to increasing concerns about climate change and the promotion of sustainable development.

Currently, there are several international documents addressing the collection of flare gases. Notably, the following documents are of significance:

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): This convention mandates member countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with one effective approach being the collection of flares.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The SDGs, established in 2015 as a set of global objectives, include addressing climate change and its impacts. Collecting flare gases is identified as one of the strategies to achieve this goal.

Zero Routine Flaring: Various energy companies, governments and institutions have endorsed the Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 initiative launched by the World Bank and the United Nations in 2015. For new fields, this scheme encourages operators to develop plans to use or conserve all the field’s associated gas without nonemergency flaring. For existing fields, operators are asked to eliminate nonemergency flaring as soon as possible, and no later than 2030.

A number of countries have introduced policies to reduce flaring:

Norway: which was one of the first countries to introduce regulations requiring operators to meter gas and taxing flaring-related CO2 emissions. These policies have been effective, and Norway has reduced flaring emissions by more than 80% since the mid-1990s.

United States: while further regulation and more stringent enforcement across more producer states is needed, regulators in Colorado and New Mexico have joined Alaska in introducing a ban on routine flaring. Around one-fifth of US oil production now occurs in states with a routine flaring ban.[3]

Conclusion:

With natural gas prices at historic highs, gas flaring is an extraordinary waste of money in addition to its negative impacts on climate change and human health. Bringing this gas to market could offer relief to very tight gas markets and, in many cases, could do so faster and cheaper than investing in new supply.

The World Bank is urging energy firms to gather the gas and sell it to businesses and consumers. However, the gas needs processing before it’s safe to use as it contains harmful chemicals. This is expensive, which is one reason why some companies prefer to flare. The World Bank says there are other options.

Companies can use the gas in mobile electricity generating stations, to power their oil drilling sites, or as a fuel in petrochemical plants. Another option is for firms to re-inject gas into the ground to raise the pressure in the oil reservoirs, which would allow them to extract more oil.[4]

It can also be stated that in addition to national and international regulations, social awareness and public demand can act as a pressure lever on oil and gas companies to reduce gas flaring.

 

[1] – https://www.worldbank.org/en/programs/gasflaringreduction/gas-flaring-explained

[2] – https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-63051458

[3] – https://www.iea.org/energy-system/fossil-fuels/gas-flaring

[4] – https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-63051458

A propos de Bahram MADANI

Étudiant en master 2, droit et gestion des énergies et du développement durable, Université de Strasbourg