Reducing greenhouse gas emissions through automated flaring

By Cameron Wallace on 2/4/2020

FLORENCE, ITALY - Gas flaring at refineries and other facilities is a delicate balance between volumes of flare gas, the steam that propels it, and natural gas that helps it burn. Getting the mixture wrong can result in hundreds of millions of dollars in fines.

Speaking at the Baker Hughes Annual Meeting in Florence, Italy, John McCormick, North America sales director at Panametrics, described how getting the numbers wrong can have a serious environmental and financial impact on facility operators.

When waste gas is flared, the mixtures of steam and natural gas that must be added fluctuate constantly. Too much waste gas, and the flare will produce a plume of black smoke. Too little waste gas is even worse.

“When the flare gas is black, that’s when the neighbors pick up the phone and start hassling the plant manager,” McCormick said. “But when there’s not enough waste gas, or steam, the flare emits a cloudy, white plume. And that is raw hydrocarbons being pumped into the air.”

Mixed correctly, the flare turns hydrocarbons into CO₂. An incorrect mixture will emit methane, propane, and other gases that are exponentially more impactful to the environment. Traditionally, flaring is managed by a digital control system that uses gas chromatograph readings to adjust the mixture of the flare.

“The problem is, the chromatograph is slow. It might only generate readings every 15 minutes. And in that time, your mix can be completely off,” McCormick said. The FlareIQ system connects directly to the digital control system, and optimizes flare gas mixtures in real time. Applications of the system demonstrate a 96.5% combustion efficiency, which significantly exceeds traditional flare management methods.

An efficient burn not only keeps the neighbors happy, but it has direct financial and carbon-minimization benefits as well.

“Improper flaring mixtures can earn you hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of fines from the government, so there is definitely an incentive to get this right,” McCormick said. By managing the flare mixture more proactively, the system also requires less steam to be generated. Less steam equals less gas burned to create it, demonstrating that decarbonization strategies can indeed be applied throughout the oil and gas production cycle.

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