Natural Gas Week: With Some Gas Flaring Inevitable, Calif Firm Aims to Lessen the Impact

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This article originally appeared in Natural Gas Week.  The article was written by John A. Sullivan.

Flaring is the science of burning or disposing of gases that cannot be used otherwise. That is the engineering definition of flaring, but that word has taken on a whole new sense of urgency as drilling ramps up across the nations.

And just about everyone involved in the US energy industry has a comment about flaring. The greens want the practice stopped because it is releasing greenhouse gases. The industry want it stopped because it means lost product. Regulators want it stopped because it means natural gas that can’t be used to supply royalties to state and federal coffers.

Politics is also playing a role in this ever-changing issue (NGW Jan.1’18). The Trump administration is currently trying to undo all of the Obama-era energy-related rules including ones on venting and flaring controls from the federal Bureau of Land Management and methane emissions standards from the Environmental Protection Agency (NGW Feb.27’17; NGW Jul.17’17).

Into this fray has stepped Long Beach, California-based Ship & Shore Environmental (S&SE). The company has made a name for itself in the pollution abatement arena and is now expanding its services to supply equipment, installation and start-up of flaring services for an E&P industry finding itself in a quandry over what to do about flaring.

“Different flaring techniques are utilized in the industry, depending on the local environmental regulations, site requirements and process needs,” S&SE CEO Anoosheh Oskouian said. “We are receiving an increase in the amount of current and potential clients who are seeking advice on selecting the proper flare equipment and services that will be safest for the environment.”

S&SE Chief Operating Officer Anu Vij told Natural Gas Week something that would probably make greens see red. “Burning a gas/liquid into the atmosphere can be environmentally friendly if done properly. It is often carried out for safety reasons,” he said. “The gases/liquids to be combusted are usually rich in heat content and can self-sustain the combustion without the need for additional external combustion gas. Flare technologies offer tradeoffs between equipment cost, operating expenses, design complexity and process requirements.”

Vij said selecting a flare type is not as easy as it sounds.

“I think a lot of people need to understand flaring is not new. It has been around for ages,” Vij said. But, he added, the times are changing and while a tall stack with flames above it high over the horizon might have been acceptable 10 years ago, it might be these days.

“Why do people flare? One reason is as an emergency device — when something goes wrong. If it is on production site, what does the client want,” Vij said. “Before a flare type is selected, it is important to understand the environmental regulations in a given geographic area and the impact on the process.”

The results of getting this wrong includes poor performance at a production site or a processing center or negative environmental impacts that can have regulators, greens and residents living nearby angry and upset. A “negative environmental impact” can result in major operational costs, fines and legal bills.

S&SE provides the technology for companies — from downstream to midstream to upstream segments of the natural gas value chain — with both the brainpower to develop flaring solutions and the equipment to accomplish that goal. One of the flares the company has developed is for low nitrogen oxide which has a rating of 99.99% destruction efficiency — meaning very little is left to enter the atmosphere. The unit is very compact, with a footprint of about 12-feet by 12-feet. Efficient and with a small footprint, the equipment can be used in close proximity to other pieces of equipment — critical in a processing facility that does not allow for a great deal of expansion.

Vij said S&SE’s equipment takes the heat from flare and uses it to create steam, heat oil in some projects or even as the heating system for buildings. “At this point, the companies are not doing this as a capital investment,” Vij told NGW. “They are getting something out of it and that means lowering the overall costs at their facilities.”

Despite the Trump administration saying it will loosen the regulatory reins, Vij said S&SE sees more and more regulations coming into play — whether at the local or state levels across the US. “The tendency now is to go towards stricter restrictions,” Vij said. “Companies are looking for some type of recovery system that will add value for the client.”

Vij said that this type of work is most closely related to the oil and natural gas industry, but “there are opportunities on the manufacturing side as well.” He added that Chinese and Indian officials are starting to cut back on pollution, making both very potential markets for S&SE in the both the short-term and in the long view of the company.

“This issue is something that is becoming more important for the oil and gas industry for a variety of reasons,” Vij said. “For us, it is a great opportunity and a great time. Done right, flaring can be good for the company, the environment and those people living near plants of drilling sites. We just have to do it,”