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Shale Flares Heat Up Natural Gas Production, But Not For Long

Tension between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the oil industry is decreasing as air emissions and flares from shale oil reserves come under regulation. While the EPA gives companies until January of 2015 to fully comply with the new regulations, gas and oil companies have to start changing their ways now to meet that target, especially regarding flares. The regulations are expected to cut emissions that harm air quality by 90 percent, per the Washington Post.

Why Flaring Happens

A byproduct of increased production to meet the increased demand for NG, flares allow dangerous gases to burn off. These occur when there is a lack of storage space for produced gas. The flares allow equipment to keep up with the flow of gas, and get released through pressurized valves in the equipment. Not only does flaring release methane and other gases into the air, it wastes energy to the tune of $100 billion of unused gas a year, according to Reuters.  The shale reserves fueled unprecedented expansion of America’s gas production, but the infrastructure that allows gas to be captured and stored before flaring hasn’t grown as fast. The result: Industry waste, energy lost, missed growth opportunities, and environmental concern. The World Bank estimates that gas emitted in flares is roughly equal to the annual energy consumption of France, about 360 tons of CO2, again per Reuters.

Green Solutions

Complying with EPA regulations is good for public opinion and for profits, as the wasted fuel can be used — thereby saving costs at gas production sites — or sold. How can companies cut down on flaring to get on the right side of the EPA regulation? For example, plants could turn the gas flares into power, cutting down on energy consumption and fuel waste. Ways to comply include:

  • Installing pollution-control equipment: Many of the newer wells are already capped with pollution-controlling equipment to cap flares. Existing gas production sites can be retrofitted with these measures to cut flares. So-called green completions are mandatory after 2015 and voluntary beforehand.
  • Implementing Technologies to Reuse the Gas: Escaped gas can be piped back into the ground and used to push more gas toward the surface, increasing production, per GE. Escaped gas can also be stored and used as fuel with compressor technologies. GE is now doing this in Qatar.
  • Decreasing Isolation: Flares often occur when captured gas cannot be put into the pipeline. Extending pipelines gives remote sites storage access and prevents flares.

Are you inspired by the cost savings of reusing produced gas? What’s your plan to green for 2015?

-Mark