When driving, ever drive by an open area and see enormous plumes of fire being emitted from pipes emanating from the ground? In the industry, this is called flaring and it’s a very common sight where oil, gas and coal mining is going on. Seems like a waste of energy to many, which it is.

Flaring is used for many reasons, and not just by drillers, but by almost any industry that may have extra gas or fuel to get rid of. That includes landfills, sewage treatment plants, chemical plants, refineries, and steel plants. The issue is that excess flammable gas needs to be released to prevent explosions and other accidents, and flaring it is a simple way to get rid of it.

Drillers use a flare when they don’t have a pipeline ready to pump out oil or ga, such as during exploration, or when they don’t have the equipment to separate gas from the water that rises up. Drillers often need to test an area’s resources before investing in pipelines so the practice of flaring is common. The problem is that the stuff that doesn’t burn when flaring, like methane and other volatile organic compounds, aren’t good for the local environment and people and can exacerbate global warming and ozone problems.

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And a lot of flaring is going on. New shale drilling all over the United States has led to a global four-year high in the amount of gas burned off as waste, the news agency Reuters has reported. That produces as much carbon pollution as some entire nations do, and worldwide flaring wastes some $100 billion worth of gas for no return, according to the report.

Things change this year, though. The Environmental Protection Agency will continue to allow flaring at exploratory wells — where the expense of a pipeline connection may not be justified — but drillers will have to capture what is now flared or allowed to vent from tanks by 2015. The agency claims drillers could actually profit $30 million by trapping and selling the gas under the rules, though that estimate has been disputed.

Source: Bob Pulte