Increased scrutiny from environmental regulators means that accurate flare measurement has never been more crucial to oil extraction operations. The majority of gas released during oil production is utilised or conserved, but many companies, industry bodies, regulators and governments are still pushing for a reduction in emissions. However, global gas flaring and venting is still significantly high.
Why is gas flaring and venting an issue?
The flaring and venting of gas contribute to climate change and impact the environment through a variety of pollutants, particularly CO2 emissions. It has been said that global gas flaring contributes as much to global warming as a small country like Italy.
But as well as the environmental impact, flaring and venting excess gas is an overwhelmingly wasteful exercise. A report released last year by the Western Values Project (WVP), a non-profit organisation focused on sustainable land development, estimates that the federal royalties lost from gas flaring in the United States amounted to more than $50 million in 2013. According to the report, the lost gas in this period could have powered all the homes in Chicago for a year.
Where is most of the flaring and venting taking place?
Historically, the majority of flared and vented gas was emitted by Russia and Nigeria, along with smaller proportions in countries like Iraq and Iran. In recent years, however, the United States has become another leader. Its volume of flared gas has risen more steeply than elsewhere because of the country’s explosive growth in its national Oil and Gas industry. Low gas prices in the United States have discouraged investment in on-site infrastructure, and flaring is still (and justly) considered the lesser of two evils when compared to venting directly into the atmosphere.
So how much gas is actually released?
Measuring the volume of flare gas expelled from Oil and Gas plants is one of the most challenging types of gas flow measurement. Fluenta is committed to ultrasonic technology as the most effective means by which to measure flare gas, but there are several other techniques being used for flare measurement, including differential pressure devices, thermal mass measurement and photo/optical technology.
Unfortunately, while many reputable companies around the world invest in precise measurement and report emissions accurately, there are still a number of sites that neither accurately measure or report emitted gas, and a number of sites still flare and vent gas illegally. For this reason, the most accurate picture of global gas flaring and venting draws from satellite imagery.
Based on satellite data, more than 150 billion cubic metres (or 5.3 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas is flared and vented every year. To put this figure into perspective, annual gas flaring equates to one quarter of annual gas consumption in the United States, 30 per cent of the European Union’s annual gas consumption, and three quarters of Russia’s total annual gas export. 150 billion cubic meters also represents more than the gas consumption of Central and South America combined. In Africa, one of the most predominant gas flaring continents, the annual 35 billion cubic metres (or 1.2 trillion cubic feet) of gas flared is equivalent to half of the continent’s total power consumption.
What is the significance of this?
Flaring gas has a global impact on climate change by adding more than 400 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Fewer than 20 countries account for more than 70 percent of gas flaring and venting, while just four countries together flare about 70 billion cubic meters of gas associated with oil production. In many of the countries responsible for the majority of gas flaring and venting, taxation and accurate measurement ensures that correct taxation is being paid and the impact on the environment is minimised, but this is not always the case.
Natural gas is a limited and valuable resource – ideally no gas would ever be lost – however, the reality of working in fossil fuel production means this is not possible. Precise measurement of gas flaring is therefore the next best thing, as it gives the industry the means collate data, build an accurate picture of gas flared and plan better ways to reduce loss and create best practice in the future.