Before we move any further, it is important to define what is natural gas flaring. Flaring represents the controlled burning of natural gas which is a common practice in the process of oil/gas exploration, as well as production and processing operations. This system includes a flare stack and pipes which add gas to the stack.
Its size and brightness depend on both type and amount of gas or liquids within one flare stack. For that reasons, flares generate a certain amount of heat and noise. This means that the large flares can produce extreme noise due to the volume and velocity of the gas in the flare stack.
Since natural gas is incredibly valuable, companies are interested in capturing it, rather than flare it. Nevertheless, gas flaring may be an important part of the drilling, production or processing actions.
Once a shale oil or gas well drilling is completed and hydraulically fractured, it is necessary to allow temporary flare in order to test production. Testing is the significant part which determines the pressure, flow and composition of the gas or oil from the well. These flaring processes at the well site can go on for several days or weeks, until both the flow of liquids or gas, and pressures stabilize.
Gas flaring is also a part of safety, maintenance and during certain emergencies. It is an important safety device, especially at gas processing plants. Furthermore, in emergency situations where either equipment or piping is unable to deal with pressure, special valves automatically release gas through piping to flare stacks.
If there were no safety flares, plants would be at great risk of potential explosions and fires. They also represent an outlet for gas while repairing and maintaining the equipment. In these cases, the flare is activated temporarily until certain emergency situations are resolved, or repairing tasks have been completed.
Gas flaring is also excellent when it comes to managing gas during compression and processing. Their systems are used to deal with waste gas which is unable to be efficiently captured and returned to the system for processing. For instance, some natural gas compressor stations are equipped with dehydrator units which function to remove water from the gas stream before that gas goes into the pipeline system. There can be a flare within the compressor station which is necessary to burn off gas vapors that were captured by the dehydrator unit. It is necessary to say that such flares are used as control devices in case vapor recovery is impossible.
With all these things in mind, one might ask are there any environmental concerns related to this process and what are they. Considering the fact that the pure natural gas is mostly methane which is a clean-burning fuel, we have to know that it is also a greenhouse gas. This means that once it is released into the air, it traps the heat in the atmosphere. Therefore, there are certain concerns when it comes to methane as well as other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from these operations.
The best decision would be to capture gas from wells, compressors, and processing operations for use. Unfortunately, there are situations where capturing the gas is not possible. In such cases, in terms of air quality, it is better to burn the gas through a flare system instead of venting it directly into the atmosphere.
Flaring is regulated by Ohio EPA’s rules which address emissions of volatile organics from production operations at well sites as well as its processing units. This means that there are particular parameters for the installation, operation, and maintenance of flares which is a necessary element in the process of controlling emissions.
ODNR’s rules for oil and gas well sites also include the problem of flaring and have a prohibition on open venting of gasses to the atmosphere. Also, these rules require companies keep a safe distance between the wells and the flares as well as production tanks and inhabited structures.
In April 2012, U.S. EPA brought new rules in order to address air emissions in the process of oil and gas exploration, production, processing, and transportation. Therefore, oil and gas well operators need to reduce air emissions during drilling and hydraulic fracturing. From January 2015, U.S. EPA requires well operators to use green completions for the control of air emissions.