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posted by CoolHand on Tuesday January 12 2016, @09:21PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the out-of-control-gas dept.

According to satellite data estimates, 350 million tons of natural gas were wastefully burned at the wellhead in 2012, about 3.5% of worldwide natural gas production. To put this into perspective, this amount of natural gas could provide electrical power to the entire continent of Africa. The CO2 emissions from natural gas flares are roughly equivalent to 10% of all CO2 emissions of the European Union.

The problem, as you might surmise, is the handling and transportation of the natural gas produced as a by-product of oil wells in areas without the infrastructure to handle gas. In addition, some gas produced as oil by-product has relatively low levels of methane. Russia flares more natural gas than any other nation, followed by Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela, Algeria, and the United States.

The World Bank is trying to stop all routine flaring of natural gas by 2030. North Dakota and New Mexico are taking steps to reduce gas flares.


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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by VLM on Tuesday January 12 2016, @10:16PM

    by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 12 2016, @10:16PM (#288817)

    None of the links contain any realistic technical or economic solution. All we have here is a weapon to bludgeon oil companies.

    I'm not saying oil companies don't deserve the occasional bludgeoning... just that its cowardly to wrap it in a coat of holy environmentalism and bizarre dictates. If you hate oil companies come out and say it, don't weasel word around it and claim you love them except when they xyz or whatever.

    There is no such thing as an oil well or a gas well, all wells produce a mix and its economically and environmentally unfeasible to collect every gas molecule. Yes, environmental unfeasibility does exist if you have to burn 100 tons of coal to make the steel to build a unscalable liquification plant to "save" a cig lighter full of butane per day or whatever. Energy companies like money, and flaring is like burning stacks of hundred dollar bills, but if it would take hundreds of thousands to save hundreds, well, it gets burned in place.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by jdavidb on Tuesday January 12 2016, @10:18PM

      by jdavidb (5690) on Tuesday January 12 2016, @10:18PM (#288819) Homepage Journal

      There's some part of the story missing here, in any event:

      The World Bank is trying to stop all routine flaring of natural gas by 2030

      Okay, why does it require coercion to stop it? This much gas would surely be a great investment for somebody to start harvesting. The only reason given in the article why the gas is burned instead of harvested is "lack of infrastructure." Well, why is it not in somebody's best economic interest to build such infrastructure?

      --
      ⓋⒶ☮✝🕊 Secession is the right of all sentient beings
      • (Score: 5, Informative) by VLM on Tuesday January 12 2016, @10:48PM

        by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 12 2016, @10:48PM (#288830)

        Ah OK good point, I made fun of all the linked articles for containing no technical details but didn't explain myself.

        Processing natgas is extremely expensive both economically and environmentally although it scales up beautifully. So if you've got a freak'n giant well like the blowout well in the gulf some years back, if it hadn't blown up the cost of processing and piping would have been minimal. But there's no such thing as a small natgas processing and compression plant. And nobody's got a solution to transport issues. The cost of pipelines, both economic and environmental, is huge no matter if you flow a lot or a little.

        You can "easily" (given access to sensitive budgeting data) come up with a model where you burn all natgas flows below X Cu Ft per day.

        It would be interesting in high tech utopia land to invent a magic way involving drones or something to gather all that natgas.

        The complaining about it is much like wanna be engineers when they learn about worthless process heat in a plant. Sometimes there's energy, that added up across the world adds up to a hell of a lot, but its too diffuse of a source, or too unusable, so dumping it is actually the most economic and environmentally sound thing you can do.

        There is no such thing as a gas well or an oil well, all wells are somewhere along the spectrum of both, and its an unfortunate fact of life that some wells are productive and profitable as oil sources but not as gas sources. So you flare the gas and then people who know nothing have plenty of complaints and answers.

        And no you can't generally ship oil with gas dissolved in it, because much like corn syrup soda, once you pump the oil out of the ground and its pressure drops to atmospheric instead of a bazillion PSI underground, the gas fizzes out. "lots of crude" is more or less saturated with methane and all the other hydrocarbons. You can actually dissolve a heck of a lot of butane in liquid toluene/benzene aka "gasoline", its just as piped out of the ground there's too much to dissolve!

        • (Score: 2) by jdavidb on Tuesday January 12 2016, @11:00PM

          by jdavidb (5690) on Tuesday January 12 2016, @11:00PM (#288838) Homepage Journal
          Cool post, and informative. That was absolutely not what I was expecting to find, but I knew there had to be some reason why people weren't snatching all that gas up and selling it and why the picture of "natural gas waste" that was painted in the article wasn't quite the whole story. Thanks!
          --
          ⓋⒶ☮✝🕊 Secession is the right of all sentient beings
    • (Score: 2) by sjames on Tuesday January 12 2016, @11:48PM

      by sjames (2882) on Tuesday January 12 2016, @11:48PM (#288851) Journal

      When I change the oil in my car, the most economical solution (for me) is to dump the waste oil into the nearby lake. That doesn't make it acceptable to not drop it off for recycling/safe disposal.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by VLM on Wednesday January 13 2016, @12:14PM

        by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 13 2016, @12:14PM (#289024)

        Bad analogy because the systemic cost including cleaning up the lake and loss of tourism/recreation makes it staggeringly cheaper to recycle the oil. Whereas there's no systemic way to capture that gas without spending possibly crazy amounts of money, so you get to shut down wells and increase the price consumers pay. Or you encourage falsification of data, etc. Remember a flare is easily detectable but environmentally good, compared to just venting and hoping no one notices other than methane being 25x or wtf worse than co2 WRT greenhouse gas.

        Also you're discussing a non-energy product. The problem with gas capture is its an energy product and you rapidly end up in the "2 gallon gas tank but the nearest station is 3 gallons away" class of problem. If you really want to capture to catch 1 unit of greenhouse gas over the lifetime of the equipment, at a very small scale, then you'll have to emit 2 to 100 units of greenhouse gas to make all the steel pipes and whatnot to do it, for a total systemic cost to the environment of say 20 units whereas just flaring would only be 1 unit...

        • (Score: 2) by sjames on Wednesday January 13 2016, @04:37PM

          by sjames (2882) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @04:37PM (#289104) Journal

          I acknowledge that there will be cases where the economics are overwhelmingly against anything but flaring, but those cases are a subset of the cases where they flare now.

          If you can flare it, you can run a modified generator on it, for example. If doing that would only break even over a long time, they probably aren't doing it now, but probably should be from the standpoint of pollution.

          .

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by RedGreen on Wednesday January 13 2016, @12:11AM

      by RedGreen (888) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @12:11AM (#288856)

      "None of the links contain any realistic technical or economic solution."

      Well who cares about the links first thing I thought reading the summary was why the hell are they not running it though a natural gas electrical generator, it is not like an oil well does not need electricity some of the time for its operations...

      --
      "I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
      • (Score: 2) by frojack on Wednesday January 13 2016, @09:27AM

        by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 13 2016, @09:27AM (#288992) Journal

        Most oil fields have power to every well head, and to every pump along the way.

        Problem is, you need a separate gas line from each well because the oil degases at the well head, and you don't want to pump gassy oil.

        So that's another pipe line to pipe the gas somewhere for oil separation, dewatering, and shipment. That's a lot of pipe
        OR
        a gas fired generation facility at or near the well head. Each of which needs a much bigger power line, and a water source, and a control system, to produce electricity in far greater quantity than they need on site. Thats a lot of infrastructure.

        I use to see the gas flaring off of the platforms in Cook Inlet every time flying into or leaving Anchorage, and I asked around about why they did that. Was told that since these were platforms at sea, it would never pay for them to put infrastructure out there on the water to deal with that amount of gas. They did curtail flaring on most land wells in Alaska.

        Still, every-time I got a gas bill I thought of those flaring platforms burning 24/7.

        I wondered why the couldn't re-inject it and store it under ground till needed. I guess the answer is the huge methane leak from just such a storage facility [scientificamerican.com] in California as we speak.

        --
        No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
        • (Score: 2) by RedGreen on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:30PM

          by RedGreen (888) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:30PM (#289133)

          So they did not heat them platforms out in the middle of the ocean in Alaska? Another easy use of the excess it is already burning somehow even with the supposed limitations you describe I'm pretty sure it would still burn in generator too. Just a bunch of excuses for disgustingly bad behavior by the bottom feeders contained in the oil industry.

          --
          "I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
          • (Score: 2) by frojack on Wednesday January 13 2016, @07:53PM

            by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 13 2016, @07:53PM (#289242) Journal

            Yes, of course the heated them, and supplied electrical power, and probably from their own gas. (I really don't know about how they generated power, but I suspect it was a gas burning internal combustion gen-set).

            But the fact that they flared 24/7 should have been your clue that they need to get rid of way more gas than they could use for those purposes.

            And the fact that they don't find a way to sell that gas by piping it somewhere suggests the economics just aren't there. Why else would evil-oil-corp pass on taking a profit?

            --
            No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
            • (Score: 2) by RedGreen on Wednesday January 13 2016, @09:23PM

              by RedGreen (888) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @09:23PM (#289276)

              "Why else would evil-oil-corp pass on taking a profit?"

              Too God damn cheap to spend the extra money/same old way of doing things/not invented here syndrome, take your pick.

              --
              "I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by isostatic on Wednesday January 13 2016, @12:20AM

      by isostatic (365) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @12:20AM (#288860) Journal

      Energy companies like money, and flaring is like burning stacks of hundred dollar bills, but if it would take hundreds of thousands to save hundreds, well, it gets burned in place.

      And that's a good safeguard if there are no externalities, however that energy company does not pay the full price for the burning of that oil (deciding what that price is is another issue). It may decide it costs $101 to fix for every $100 saving -- not worthwhile. The rest of the world then suffers far more than $1, but that suffering is spread to 7 billion people, not just 1000 shareholders. Socialise the costs, privatise the profits.

      We have environmental protection laws because a company can make a fortune if they were to release methyl isocyanate because they've increased profits by not keeping safety systems functioning. If a company doesn't need to pay the price unless caught (and even then are likely to be immune from the full price)

      Even if they do pay the entire price, they may be less risk averse than the average person -- imagine a company with a net worth of $1b takes chance to make $20b with a 10% chance of it going bad and getting caught and having to pay $300b in compensation.

      That's a good deal. 9 times out of ten the company makes $20b, 1 time out of ten the company goes bust and loses $1b.

  • (Score: 4, Informative) by Covalent on Wednesday January 13 2016, @02:58AM

    by Covalent (43) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @02:58AM (#288905) Journal

    The problem with this, unfortunately, is that most of the gas that is burned off (at least is many wells) is a mixture of C1 - C4 hydrocarbons (methane, ethane, propane, butane, and isobutane) as well as some hydrogen sulfide for good measure. The hydrogen sulfide is deadly stuff, but even after you remove it, the infrastructure for natural gas is specifically for methane. At first the difference may not seem that important, but combustion temperature and properties are all different, and the regulations regarding natural gas are understandably strict.

    So you can't just pump this stuff into peoples' homes and let them burn it. Separating it into its constituent parts and then burning the methane seems like a good idea, but the cost here is pretty significant.

    So, unfortunately, we have an incredibly valuable resource (oil) that is mixed up with a reasonably valuable resource (natural gas) and a bunch of stuff we'd rather not have (the rest). The cheapest way to get out the really valuable stuff cheaply is to burn off the rest. If you could invent a way to separate out the natural gas at a low price, you'd be a wealthy wealthy person. But in the meantime, money talks, and you know the rest.

    --
    You can't rationally argue somebody out of a position they didn't rationally get into.
    • (Score: 2) by opinionated_science on Wednesday January 13 2016, @04:45AM

      by opinionated_science (4031) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @04:45AM (#288930)

      This concurs with something I was told when I was working for my Dad's firm (Engineering) and a client of his who was an oil platform manager, was asked the naive question by yours truly! The gas is considered too dangerous and although burning it seems wasteful, the prevention of unplanned explosions is foremost.
      I also generally believe that corporations are not known to be so profligate if it were worth the effort to recover. ....

      • (Score: 1) by anubi on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:35AM

        by anubi (2828) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:35AM (#288942) Journal

        Somehow, it looks like there oughta be some engine that will run on this stuff... make electricity. Use what you need locally. Ship any excess to the grid.

        --
        "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
    • (Score: 2) by xpda on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:38PM

      by xpda (5991) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:38PM (#289140) Homepage

      Exactly right. This article is not a "flaring is evil the world's gonna end" article. It's the news that the World Bank and some states are planning to make it more expensive to flare gas and/or subsidize the capture of the gas by-products, reducing or eliminating routine flaring. It's all in the economics.

  • (Score: 2) by hendrikboom on Wednesday January 13 2016, @08:03AM

    by hendrikboom (1125) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 13 2016, @08:03AM (#288969) Homepage Journal

    What would be worse is to let it just dissipate into the atmosphere. Methane is a much more effective greenhouse gas than the CO2 it burns into.

    • (Score: 2) by Alfred on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:23PM

      by Alfred (4006) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:23PM (#289173) Journal
      Yup. That is exactly why flares were invented (decades before the EPA existed). The refinery could burn it or dump it in the river.
  • (Score: 2) by wonkey_monkey on Wednesday January 13 2016, @09:20AM

    by wonkey_monkey (279) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @09:20AM (#288988) Homepage

    ...it looks pretty cool.

    --
    systemd is Roko's Basilisk
  • (Score: 2) by rob_on_earth on Wednesday January 13 2016, @10:22AM

    by rob_on_earth (5485) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @10:22AM (#289000) Homepage

    "To put this into perspective, this amount of natural gas could provide electrical power to the entire continent of Africa."
    for a day?
    week?
    year?
    femto second?

    not really putting it into perspective.

    • (Score: 2) by xpda on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:32PM

      by xpda (5991) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:32PM (#289137) Homepage

      The amount of gas flared in a femtosecond could theoretically power Africa for a femtosecond. Perspective is implied.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by RedGreen on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:41PM

      by RedGreen (888) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:41PM (#289145)

      I would think a year as that is the time frame they talk about. But I agree it is sorely lacking in specifics the W5 as the TV show is called around here. The who, what ,where, when and why of the story sorely lacking in most journalistic efforts these days.

      --
      "I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
      • (Score: 2) by Alfred on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:17PM

        by Alfred (4006) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:17PM (#289167) Journal
        A year for a year is a fair comparison but no one flares for a year. (except the Arabs) Normally flaring happens hours at a time if it is really bad. Day to day flaring of an operating plant is probably not enough to power a city block.