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Flaring & venting in the oil & gas exploration & production industry

Executive summary:
The option to release gas to the atmosphere by fl aring and venting is an essential practice in oil and gas production, primarily for safety reasons. Flaring is the controlled burning of natural gas produced in association with oil in the course of routine oil and gas production operations. Venting is the controlled release of unburned gases directly into the atmosphere. The availability of a fl are or a vent ensures that associated natural gas can be safely disposed of in emergency and shutdown situations.

Where gas cannot be stored or used commercially, the risk of fi re and explosion must be reduced by either fl aring or venting.

It is in an oil company’s interest to minimise the amount of gas fl ared in order to realise as much value as possible from the hydrocarbons being produced. A variety of mechanisms may potentially be used to minimise fl aring. However, it may not be technically or economically feasible to sell some or all of the gas, for reasons that are often a combination of geography, availability of customers, and government energy policies. Similarly, it may not be technically or economically feasible to reinject the gas into underground reservoirs. Therefore, gas may have to be fl ared as a waste product.

In some cases, venting may be preferable to fl aring, depending on considerations such as local noise impacts, toxicity of gases being produced, and hydrocarbon content of the gas.

For environmental and resource conservation reasons, fl aring and venting should always be minimised as much as practicable, consistent with safety considerations. Flaring and venting can have local environmental impacts, as well as producing emissions which have the potential to contribute to global warming. Available data indicate that, on a worldwide basis, gas fl aring contributes only 1% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, and fl aring and venting contribute only 4% of anthropogenic methane emissions. Case studies in this booklet illustrate some of the ways in which the industry has sought to reduce fl aring and/or minimise its impacts through commercialisation of gas reserves, improvements in operation, maintenance and design of fl are systems, and new ways of storing associated gas.

Despite these developments, the essential point is that no single approach to dealing with associated gas will be appropriate for all projects or locations. Industry needs to be able to choose from among a variety of creative and common sense approaches to address fl aring and venting concerns in specifi c operations. To achieve this, governments need to provide an energy policy framework which will encourage and allow companies to select from among very different approaches in order to achieve the best practicable outcome in particular circumstances.

Bibliography:
Flaring & venting in the oil & gas exploration & production industryAn overview of purpose, quantities, issues, practices and trends
OGP (International Association of Oil & Gas Producers) Report No. 2.79/288
January 2000

These guidelines have been prepared for the OGP by the Flaring and Venting Task Force of the OGP’s Environmental Quality Committee. The task force members were:
John Kearns, BHP Petroleum
Kit Armstrong, Chevron
Les Shirvill, Shell
Emmanuel Garland, Elf
Carlos Simon, Texaco
Jennifer Monopolis, Exxon

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