Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Issue of Flaring Flares Up in North Dakota & Texas

There is no bigger issue for natural gas's prospects 20 years into the future and the global acceptance of natural gas than its carbon footprint. Though it is easy to neglect such long-term thinking, given the pressures of the present, the gas industry forgets this point at its long-term peril.

To decrease natural gas's carbon footprint, the gas industry should support research funding for carbon capture and storage to have commercially viable solutions within a decade. Here it has common cause with some voices within the coal industry that genuinely accept global warming and some environmentalists who want viable carbon capture technology developed.

Beyond supporting the development of carbon capture technology,  the gas industry must slash right now methane leakage, come as close as possible to eliminating venting, and decrease significantly flaring.

A big increase in permits to flare gas in Texas and substantial flaring of natural gas in North Dakota spotlights the practice of flaring. Here are the numbers.

In 2011, as much as 35% of gas in North Dakota was flared, according to the Energy Information Administration.  EIA further states, "The percentage of flared gas in North Dakota is considerably higher than the national average; in 2009, less than 1% of natural gas produced in the United States was vented or flared."

In Texas, permits issued to flare gas increased from 158 in 2009 to 651 in 2011.  The jump in flaring coincides with especially a boom in oil production.  Gas generally is flared when it is associated with oil production and when gathering pipelines are not available to take the gas to market.

Compared to venting methane or gas, flaring gas reduces in the near term the global warming potential by destroying methane and releasing instead carbon dioxide--a less potent global warming pollutant in the short run.  It also should be noted that Professor Howarth in his study assumed that 100% of methane at shale gas wells is vented during the flowback period, a demonstrably false assumption.

While flaring is a better environmental practice than venting methane (as methane over an initial 12 years traps about 22 times more heat than carbon dioxide), the best practice is to capture methane and put it in a pipeline.  As a result, a group of investors representing $500 billion in assets wrote in March a letter to oil and gas producers expressing concern about the volume of gas being flared.

The investors also note that the flaring of gas in North Dakota amounts to a $100 million loss of product that would otherwise be revenue supporting their investments.  That is real money being lost right now.  Yet the damage being done to the natural gas "brand" by flaring and methane leakage rates higher than need be is greater still.  


  1. We have been living with flaring and venting since 2008. The first time a well flared for 13 nights behind us-1460 feet or so. A news station reported it as a spectacular northern lights display in Susquehanna County. Another time I was downwind from flaring and suffered a sore throat and nose for 3 days after getting a good blast from it-the well was 1300 feet from where I was planting garlic..wind changed. Flaring is better than venting? I would like to see both archaic practices abolished. But then again we ARE the experiment and it takes more time to conclude we are at risk than it does to..let's say-stamp a permit or two. The roaring obliterates all other sounds. The flames dance in the middle of the very dry woods. We spent our entire Easter weekend covering our ears from the roar 2 miles away. What I know is there are better ways to do this.I did a little research. With gas so cheap? Are their incentives to add cost to production just for the citizens safety or comfort or peace of mind? We both know the answer to that. BTW I was told by DEP YEARS AGO there are no regs for flaring or venting...just a temporary inconvenience,4 years seems like a very long temporary inconvenience.

  2. Hi John, the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) recently put out a report called "Leaking Profits". It outlines many existing methods which companies can use now to limit Methane waste. Each of these pays for themselves in a short time. The report is around 70 pages.

    yoko,thanks for sharing your personal eperiences!