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NETL Report Examines Technologies for Reducing Emissions from Gas Flaring
Gas flaring in progress.

Flaring, often used in the oil and gas industry to dispose of gases not processed and sold as part of normal operations, has been a common practice for nearly 160 years but is a source of greenhouse gas emissions — most notably methane. A new comprehensive evaluation of gas flare technologies, conducted by NETL, suggests that significant emissions reduction will depend largely upon low-cost improvements to existing technologies backed by strategic federal investment.

The report, conducted with research colleagues at West Virginia University (WVU), indicates that use of existing solutions could even take the form of adapting technologies currently in use by industrial heating and power industries.

“The practice of flaring remains as a significant source of methane and other GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions in oil and natural gas operations,” the report suggests. “Additionally, it often represents a significant waste of a limited natural resource. The newly adopted EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations attempt to address many of these issues but are likely to place a significant economic strain on operators. The development of economic technology-driven solutions is going to be critical in supporting this transition, backed by strategic federal investments.”

NETL Research Engineer Clinton Bedick, Ph.D., presented information about the study at the 2024 NETL Resource Sustainability Project Review Meeting.

“The findings in the report highlight critical areas where significant emissions reductions can be made without significant technological advancements,” Bedick explained. “Additionally, it identifies the largest barrier toward adoption of such technologies is economic viability.”

The report, prepared by Bedick and NETL’s Donald Ferguson along with Derek Johnson and Andrew Nix of WVU, makes recommendations that address unlit or poorly performing flares, measurement/monitoring, and low-cost retrofit technologies. 

The study also reports that compared to other countries, flaring activity in the U.S. is composed of many small sites.

“Specifically, U.S. flaring generally consists of a greater number of small flares, spatially distributed across multiple unconventional basins,” the report states. “As a result, the economic impact of implementing high-cost technologies to each flare is likely to be more significant compared to that of larger, single-source emitters.”

The report recommends development of technology approaches that lower the cost of reducing flaring activity including improvements for:

  • Low-emission valves, improved seals, zero loss transfer equipment, or captured/piped equipment to replace atmospheric release.
  • Facility design and standard operating procedures related to methods to capture, store, and reuse gas that would otherwise be vented or flared.
  • Vapor recovery units to reduce storage tank emissions.
  • Acid gas treatment processes to eliminate/reduce CO2.

According to the World Bank's Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR), the amount of gas that is currently flared each year — about 144 billion cubic meters — “could power the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.”

“Gas flaring contributes to climate change and impacts the environment through emission of CO2 (carbon dioxide) black carbon and other pollutants,” GGFR maintains. “It is estimated that each cubic meter of associated gas flared results in about 2.8 kilograms of CO2-equivalent emissions. At current levels, global flaring is estimated to result in about 400 million tons of CO2-equivalent emissions annually.”

The NETL report was submitted to DOE HQ and will be used to understand future R&D needs.

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By using its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans