By Ersin Merdan
Gas Flaring in era of Climate Change

- The Writer holds an MSc in Eurasian Political Economy & Energy from King’s College London and also an MA in European Studies from Sabanc─▒ University.

The process of burning off petroleum gas as a safety measure to relieve overall pressure has caused more than 300 million tons of CO2 leakage into the atmosphere in 2015, resulting in the subsequent loss of approximately 140 billion cubic meters of gas. The World Bank’s 2015 study estimates that the volume of natural gas flared annually is worth around US$30 billion, or enough to feed 30 percent of annual natural gas consumption of Europe and 25 percent of the U.S. It was also estimated that if the flared volume were to be used for power generation, it would be enough to provide 50 percent of the electricity needs of Africa.

During oil production, associated petroleum gas is produced from the reservoir when oil is brought to the surface, but despite using and capturing the majority of the gas; some of the produced gas is flared. Due to technical, economic and regulatory constraints, gas flaring continues to be a source of greenhouse gas emissions, and of environmental degradation thereby contributing to climate change by increasing CO2 leakage.

There are three categories of gas flaring: routine, safety, and non-routine flaring. Flaring that occurs during normal oil production operations is called routine, or production flaring, and the volume of gas vented during the process can vary according to the plant’s functionality or failures. In the case of safety flaring, the operation is controlled against fire, compressor failure and valve breakdown to maintain the flare system. In non-routine flaring, the procedure can be either planned or unplanned and usually lasts for a short period of time and is typically intermittent. It usually occurs during the maintenance process such as acidification, exploration and production testing, or during temporary operational failure or upon the replacement of major equipment.

For long-term operational success, the phasing out of routine flaring is of the utmost importance for resource efficiency. There are major barriers to the reduction of gas flaring related to technological, geographic, structural, and economic as well as the regulatory environment. Despite their co-existence, from production to processing and transmission to distribution, crude oil and natural gas require various technologies, but gas flaring also requires different technologies and equipment if it is to be reduced.

Flared gas requires special procedures before it is transmitted to the national gas network. It is vital to have installation and maintenance equipment and trained staff to conduct the operation. This, therefore, is costly for small to medium producers, but a suggested solution would be for investors to create partnerships to specialize in gas flaring, which would allow small to medium producers to benefit from economies of scale and build synergies for superior investment modeling. Additionally, the lack of a strong distribution and transmission network system also acts as an impediment in reducing gas venting.  

In the case of a gas monopoly, gas produced as a result of flaring would possibly be sold at below market value, making such gas trading commercially unattractive for investors. As long as the market price of gas is determined by a monopoly or through intervention in the gas market, no economic incentives prevail for investors to reduce flaring in such an environment.

Investment opportunities from gas flaring will not turn into tangible investment results as long as the legal and regulatory frameworks in related countries support a mechanism that prevents its expansion.

Although the exploration and production of petrol are centuries old, it is only now that flared gas has attracted the attention of governments and stakeholders. To move further towards the reduction in flaring, a public-private partnership was established back in 2002 as an initiative under the auspicious of the World Bank- Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR), with the aim of promoting better standards, and exchanging practices in gas flaring reduction operations. Currently, a total of 13 major oil producers as well as 18 countries have endorsed the GGFR. With the intention of establishing a worldwide standard for global gas flaring reduction, the GGFR has prepared guidance for the implementation, monitoring and progress reporting. Thanks to the GGFR, great strides have been made in the collection of data on the global volumes of gas flared in recent years obliterating uncertainty in this area.

A year later in 2003, to enhance the work of the GGFR, the World Bank launched another more promising initiative called, Zero Routine Flaring by 2030, which brought together governments, development institutions, and big oil companies. The initiative set an ambitious goal of phasing out routine associated petroleum gas by 2030. From a resource management and environmental approach, the initiative asserts that gas flaring is not sustainable in the long-term and therefore, close cooperation in eliminating gas flaring is imperative.

To this end, international efforts have been significant and a number of individual countries have also been actively working towards reducing their gas flaring, however, only a few countries, Canada, the U.K., and Norway have managed to achieve solid and worthy results.

Companies are also working around the clock for the reduction of gas flaring. Recently, an innovative approach has come from a U.S.-based, eight-year-old start-up, the Alphabet Energy, which considers gas flaring a promising field for investment. Their product, a power generating combustor, uses thermoelectric materials to convert heat into electricity. Of note is the fact that this operation does not directly reduce the overall gas flared into the atmosphere but the application directly recycles the heat that generates electricity, which otherwise would be needed from other sources. The technology allows oil-drilling companies to generate their own electricity for their drilling pad while contributing to the reduction of their budget. 

For better resource management and environmentally friendly oil production, global recognition of the endorsement for the reduction in gas flaring is of vital importance to reach the objectives set in the Zero Routine Flaring by 2030. The success in results is inextricably linked to the improved availability of information and know-how in the field of reforms and operations. Despite recent improvements in the field of gas flaring, efforts need to be accelerated by involving governments, oil companies and international partners to overcome economic, technological, legal and regulatory as well structural and market barriers.

- Opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Anadolu Agency's editorial policy. 




15 May,2017