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Oil Gas Flaring: What is it?

Flaring is a controlled burn of natural gas that can be trapped with crude oil. It happens in wells drilled for natural gas, as well as during fracking. The practice has persisted from the beginning of oil production over 160 years ago and takes place for multiple reasons.

There are also many misconceptions surrounding flaring. First among them is that the natural gas that is being burnt off is somehow wasted. The second misconception is that it’s harmful to the environment and contributes to climate change.

Flaring is a safe and necessary process, to learn more keep reading.

Reasons to Flare

Flaring Off Sour Gas: The first reason flaring is used is to dispose of sour gas. Typically, when there are large volumes of hydrogen sulfide in natural gas, it cannot be safely extracted. To dispose of this gas, it’s burned off. When the gas is burned, the hydrogen is converted into water and the sulfur becomes sulfur dioxide.

Well Test Flaring: Sometimes during the drilling of oil and natural gas wells, it’s necessary to flare for content testing. Flaring during drilling is used as a way to determine the types of gas and oil in the well. Flaring may not be necessary if the well site is close enough to a pipeline where testing occurs. This process is called in-line testing; it can happen at the processing facility. If the well is instead an exploratory well, flaring must be done to determine what equipment is needed to extract the gas and oil safely and properly.

Production Flaring: During the extraction of oil and gas, it may be necessary to flare for a few reasons. Sometimes chemicals, mud, or fracking fluids can be contaminated with natural gas. The process of flaring removes the gas from these waste products. Flaring can also be necessary if drilling, production, processing, or pipelining releases natural gas that cannot be processed or captured.

Environmental Impacts

Flaring of natural gas does contribute to climate change because it releases carbon dioxide. Additionally, depending on the purity of the natural gas there are other harmful emissions, such as sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, which combine with moisture in the atmosphere to form acid rain. This rain in turn acidifies lakes, streams, and damages vegetation. Other pollutants such as particulate matter, hydrocarbons, and ash can deplete soil nutrients through acidification, harming agriculture. Though, when compared to methane, flaring produces fewer net greenhouse gases. 

Reduction of Flaring

As global warming becomes a more widely recognized issue, many oil companies are developing methods that help reduce the need for flaring. As a result, flaring around the globe has decreased and new technologies are being developed that allow for natural gas to be utilized in more ways.

For example, natural gas can now be pumped back into oil wells in order to increase pressure and allow for oil to be continually pumped. Furthermore, the amount of flaring has been reduced further since natural gas has become a product that companies want to harness and sell.

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