Flaring in Industry
Flaring is a technique that the oil and gas industry uses for getting rid of unwanted flammable gases by burning them.1 When the hydrocarbons are burned, they release greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well as other gases and particles, including black carbon. The amount of black carbon that is released depends on the composition of the gas and on the specific conditions under which they are burned.2
Gas flaring takes place either on a routine basis or as an emergency measure, for example for releasing pressure. Routine flaring can be defined as flaring during normal oil production operations in the absence of sufficient facilities or amenable geology to re-inject the produced gas, utilize it on-site, or dispatch it to a market.3 Globally, it results in more than 350 million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions every year and wastes a valuable resource, with harmful impacts to the environment from un-combusted hydrocarbons. If this amount of gas could be used for power generation, it would be enough energy to provide more electricity than the annual consumption of the African continent. While associated gas cannot always be used to produce power, it can often be utilized in other productive ways or re-injected into an underground formation.4
For the past decade, there has been a declining trend in gas flaring. However, in 2018, an increase was noted, mainly related to extraction of shale gas and in countries involved in conflicts.5 In the Arctic, the main area of flaring activity is in northwest Russia.6 A study based on satellite imagery indicates black carbon emission from gas flaring in the Russian Arctic increased in the early 2000s.7 With projections based on current legislation scenarios, gas flaring in oil and gas refineries is expected to become the largest black carbon emission source by 2030 in the Arctic Council countries.
Black carbon from flaring
Estimates of emissions of black carbon from flaring are uncertain and are dependent on the methods and models that are used for making the estimate.8 In a global perspective gas flaring is considered a minor source of black carbon (about 3% of emission). In the Arctic, one study based on model simulations estimated that flaring accounts for 42% of the black carbon in the air, as an annual average. The simulation also showed that in the month of March, over half of the black carbon near the surface might be from flaring.9 Another study, which estimated black carbon emissions from satellite imagery, suggests that gas flaring could potentially explain a significant fraction of Arctic warming.10 In areas near the Russian oil and gas fields, the impact is large enough to trigger melting of sea ice, in turn resulting in feedback mechanisms that amplify the warming.11
Actions to reduce flaring
Routine flaring can be reduced in ways that make business sense because they are economically beneficial. One important strategy is to use the gas that would otherwise be burned as a local energy source for heating and electricity. Another option is to capture it in ways that make it possible to sell or to store for future use. A report that Carbon Limits has produced as part of the EU Action on Black Carbon in the Arctic (EUA-BCA) provides an overview of so-called Best Available Techniques Economically Achievable (BATEA) that are particularly relevant towards demonstration and feasibility projects in the Arctic.12 Many of them have been available for some time and implemented in some location. The report highlights the following options for managing associated petroleum gas (APG) in ways that minimize emissions of black carbon and other atmospheric pollutants:
- Using all, or part of, APG to fuel on-site oil extraction activities requiring heat and/or power. In addition to reducing black carbon emissions, these technologies have the potential to displace other more emission-intensive fuels at oil production sites, with both financial and environmental benefits.
- Reinjecting gas into existing wells for enhanced oil recovery or underground storage. This option has the potential to reduce or eliminate APG flaring at oil production facilities. Even if some gas will be burned to power reinjection activities, reinjection would significantly reduce black carbon emissions from oil production. A business benefit is that reinjection can provide revenues for the operator in the form of increased oil production. Gas injected for storage has a speculative value to the operator related to the future use and sale of the gas.
- Exporting natural gas. Technologies are available for treating the APG to produce natural gas that is sold on the market. This option requires facilities for transporting the gas, as well as gas pre-processing equipment. A benefit, in addition to reduced emission from flaring, is that it would generate sales revenues.
- Exporting Liquid hydrogen Products. This option would involve further processing of the captured natural gas to high-value fuels that could be exported from the site. It requires investment in technical equipment with relatively high capital costs, which would require a steady supply of APG to make sense economically.
- Exporting electricity. This option would involve using local gas production for producing electricity that could be sold to consumers elsewhere. In addition to an accessible electricity grid, it would require investments in electricity generating equipment and associated infrastructure.
- Stripping the heavier natural gas liquids from APG prior to flaring. As a stand-alone option, such techniques can be used when other BATEA are deemed economically unfeasible. However, the preferred option is to use it in combination with other BATEA. Simple stripping of NGLs prior to gas flaring is often economically and technically feasible and has significant potential to reduce black carbon emissions.
- Optimizing combustion conditions at the flare. This option is applicable on its own, both in relation to emergency flaring and for routine flaring that has not been possible to eliminated through implementation of other BATEA. The benefits are mainly environmental as optimizing combustion conditions does not on its own result in additional revenues for the operator.
The choice of technology will depend on the specific conditions at each production facility. The report from Carbon Limits - Best Available Techniques Economically Achievable to address black carbon from gas flaring - presents a detailed assessment of each of these options, intended as a knowledge base for both businesses and national administrations that regulate the industry.13
The World Bank has taken a leadership role in gas flaring reduction through the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR). It is a public-private initiative comprising international and national oil companies, national and regional governments, and international institutions. GGFR works to remove technical and regulatory barriers to flaring reduction, conducting research, disseminating best practices, and developing country-specific gas flaring reduction programs.14 Activities include the initiative 'Zero Routine Flaring by 2030' (ZRF 2030).15 Countries and companies who have signed on to ZRF 2030 are obliged to publicly report their flaring and progress towards the goals on this initiative on an annual basis. All the oil and gas producing countries in the Arctic (Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Russian Federation, and the United States) have endorsed ZRF 2030.16
In the Arctic, the Arctic Council Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane summarizes policy activities within the Arctic countries and issues recommendations. Its 2019 report included the following recommendations related the oil and gas industry, covering emissions of black carbon and methane: 1) adopt and implement oil and gas methane emissions reduction strategies; 2) encourage the adoption of best practices in reducing routine flaring and in improving gas capture; 3) encourage the adoption of best practices in reducing routine flaring and in improving gas capture; 4) urge firms to engage in international and domestic voluntary emissions reduction activities for both black carbon and methane; and 5) promote targeted and cost-effective measures at large methane emission sources, where relevant.17
The Arctic Council Work Group Arctic Action Contaminants Programme (ACAP) supports the on-going project ‘Mitigation of short-lived climate pollutants from APG flaring’ through its Project Support Instrument. The project works with the Russian government and Russian companies together with consultancies to identify options for reducing emission from flaring and to demonstrate best available technologies and practices (BAT-BEP).18
There are also national regulations in place that limit the amount of flaring that is permitted. For instance, in Norway flaring of natural gas is only permitted when necessary for safety reasons. The Russian Federation has scaled up its flare reduction efforts with higher economic penalties for flaring above allowed norms. A special multiplier for the pollution charges for flaring was introduced in 2013 and was increased twofold the following year. Russia is also in the process of implementing best available technology (BAT) standards, which will help reduce black carbon emissions from flaring.19 Furthermore, oil and gas companies in all Arctic states are increasingly taking active part in voluntary partnerships to address their emissions.
Further policy options
The soon-to-be-published EUA-BCA report Enhancing the reduction of black carbon emissions to protect the Arctic: Mapping the policy landscape of national, regional and international action identifies several policy actions that would facilitate fulfilling the technical potential for reducing emissions from flaring. They include:
- Promotion of R&D into field measurement data on actual black carbon emission rates for a diverse range of flares relevant for the Arctic region,
- Close monitoring and reporting of progress within the Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 initiative,
- Defining common environmental standards for black carbon emitted in oil and gas production.
The World Bank Zero Routine Flaring initiative could be enhanced, inter alia by improving the gas flaring monitoring and reporting routines by the signatories.
Available data suggests that gas flaring volumes have increased in several countries although flaring per unit of oil production has decreased. A better overview of the implementation of new policies and regulations is needed to enhance transnational learning on how to achieve real emission reductions. To complement the self-reporting of gas flaring volumes required of signatories to the Zero Routine Flaring, there is a need to further develop independent monitoring of gas flaring, e.g., with satellite observations. It is also important to gain a deeper understanding of the role of flaring in the production at different sites.
There is a need to perform field measurement campaigns to acquire a better knowledge of how black carbon emissions are affected by the type of flare, rate of gas flaring, composition of the gas and local weather conditions. Measurement techniques are available, and such an initiative could be twinned with a measurement campaign on methane.
Given improved understanding of how black carbon is formed during gas flaring, it is possible to establish international low-emissions standards with respect to black carbon. Both flaring technology manufacturers and oil and gas producers can be encouraged to construct and deploy low-emission technologies to be used for unavoidable flaring. Several pathways for encouragement are available. For the oil and gas producers it is for example conceivable to attach the use of low-emission flaring technologies into operating permits or to mandate the use of low-emission technologies in the field development plan approval process. The manufacturers can be regulated via BAT/BREF specifications for the sector or via other processes supporting environmental performance standards.
According to the EUA-BCA mapping of possibilities for further policy action, the Arctic Contaminants Action Programme (ACAP) of the Arctic Council provides a base for exploring concrete actions on flaring, making the Arctic Council a potential leading policy forum for endorsing actions that would reduce emissions from flaring in the Arctic region.
Details on different policy options for reducing emissions from flaring are described in the report Elements in the policy landscape for action on black carbon in the Arctic: Supporting material to the EUA-BCA report Enhancing the reduction of black carbon emissions to protect the Arctic.
Arctic Council. (2019). Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane. Summary of Progress and Recommendations 2019. Retrieved from Arctic Council Secretariat website: http://hdl.handle.net/11374/24...
Cho, M.-H., Park, R. J., Yoon, J., Choi, Y., Jeong, J. I., Labzovskii, L., … Kim, B.-M. (2019). A missing component of Arctic warming: Black carbon from gas flaring. Environmental Research Letters, 14(9), 094011. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9...
Dong, X., Zhu, Q., Fu, J. S., Huang, K., Tan, J., & Tipton, M. (2019). Evaluating recent updated black carbon emissions and revisiting the direct radiative forcing in Arctic. Geophysical Research Letters, 46(6), 3560–3570. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018GL...
Klimont, Z. (2018). Developing emission scenarios within the EU Action on Black Carbon. Presented at the BC Action Meeting, 22 March 2019, Laxenburg, Austria.
McEwen, J. D. N., & Johnson, M. R. (2012). Black carbon particulate matter emission factors for buoyancy-driven associated gas flares. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, 62(3), 307–321. https://doi.org/10.1080/104732...
Saunier, S., Bergauer, M.-A., & Isakova, I. (2019). Best Available Techniques Economically Achievable to address black carbon from gas flaring. Oslo, Norway: Carbon Limits.
Stanely, M. (2018). Gas flaring: An industry practice faces increasing global attention. Presented at the Arctic Council and Finland’s black carbon event at COP24, Katowice, December 10, 2018. Arctic Council and Finland’s black carbon event at COP24, Katowice, December 10, 2018.
Stohl, A., Klimont, Z., Eckhardt, S., Kupiainen, K., Shevchenko, V. P., Kopeikin, V. M., & Novigatsky, A. N. (2013). Black carbon in the Arctic: The underestimated role of gas flaring and residential combustion emissions. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 13(17), 8833–8855. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-13...
Vygon Consulting. (2019). Mitigation of short-lived climate pollutants from APG - flaring. Phase 1B. Demonstration of best available technologies and environmental proactices (BAT-BEP) to reduce SLCP emission from flaring of ABP - Analysis of BAT-BEP and business cases for SLCP mitigation in the Russian Arctic. Final Report. Retrieved from Vygon Consulting website: [to be added]
The World Bank. (n.d.-a). Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) [Text/HTML]. Retrieved September 9, 2019, from World Bank website: https://www.worldbank.org/en/p...
The World Bank. (n.d.-b). Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 [Text/HTML]. Retrieved September 9, 2019, from World Bank website: https://www.worldbank.org/en/p...
World Bank Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR). (2019, June 12). Increased Shale Oil Production and Political Conflict Contribute to Increase in Global Gas Flaring. Press release No: 2019/EEX/200/. Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/n...
1 James D.N. McEwen and Matthew R. Johnson, “Black Carbon Particulate Matter Emission Factors for Buoyancy-Driven Associated Gas Flares,” Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 62, no. 3 (March 2012): 307–21, https://doi.org/10.1080/10473289.2011.650040.
2 Stephanie Saunier, Marc-Alexander Bergauer, and Irina Isakova, “Best Available Techniques Economically Achievable to Address Black Carbon from Gas Flaring” (Oslo, Norway: Carbon Limits, 2019).
3 Michael Stanley, “Gas Flaring: An Industry Practice Faces Increasing Global Attention” (2018).
4 The World Bank, “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030,” Text/HTML, World Bank, accessed September 9, 2019, https://www.worldbank.org/en/programs/zero-routine-flaring-by-2030.
5 World Bank Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR), “Increased Shale Oil Production and Political Conflict Contribute to Increase in Global Gas Flaring. Press Release No: 2019/EEX/200/” (The World Bank, June 12, 2019), https://www.worldbank.org.
6 Z. Klimont, “Developing Emission Scenarios within the EU Action on Black Carbon” (2018), https://www.amap.no/documents/download/3391/inline.
7 Mee-Hyun Cho et al., “A Missing Component of Arctic Warming: Black Carbon from Gas Flaring,” Environmental Research Letters 14, no. 9 (September 6, 2019): 094011, https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab374d.
8 Xinyi Dong et al., “Evaluating Recent Updated Black Carbon Emissions and Revisiting the Direct Radiative Forcing in Arctic,” Geophysical Research Letters 46, no. 6 (March 28, 2019): 3560–70, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018GL081242.
9 A. Stohl et al., “Black Carbon in the Arctic: The Underestimated Role of Gas Flaring and Residential Combustion Emissions,” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 13, no. 17 (September 5, 2013): 8833–55, https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-13-8833-2013.
10 Cho et al., “A Missing Component of Arctic Warming.”
11 Cho et al.
12 Saunier, Bergauer, and Isakova, “Best Available Techniques Economically Achievable to Address Black Carbon from Gas Flaring.”
13 Saunier, Bergauer, and Isakova.
14 The World Bank, “Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR),” Text/HTML, World Bank, accessed September 9, 2019, https://www.worldbank.org/en/programs/gasflaringreduction.
15 The World Bank, “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030.”
16 The World Bank.
17 Arctic Council, “Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane. Summary of Progress and Recommendations 2019” (Tromsø, Norway: Arctic Council Secretariat, 2019), http://hdl.handle.net/11374/2411.
18 Vygon Consulting, “Mitigation of Short-Lived Climate Pollutants from APG - Flaring. Phase 1B. Demonstration of Best Available Technologies and Environmental Proactices (BAT-BEP) to Reduce SLCP Emission from Flaring of ABP - Analysis of BAT-BEP and Business Cases for SLCP Mitigation in the Russian Arctic. Final Report” (Vygon Consulting, June 2019), [to be added].
19 Arctic Council, “Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane. Summary of Progress and Recommendations 2019.”