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Ever drive by a large open industrial area and see enormous plumes of fire being emitted into the sky?  In the industry, this is called “flaring.” It’s very common at oil drilling and coal mining locations.

Ever wonder why this energy is being wasted like that?

Flaring is used by almost any industry that may have extra gas or fuel to get rid of. That includes landfills, sewage treatment plants, chemical plants, and refineries.  The issue is that excess flammable gas needs to be quickly released to prevent explosions and burning it off is a quick and easy way to get rid of it.

In the oil and gas exploration industry, drillers use flare when they don’t have a pipeline ready to pump out oil or gas, such as during exploration. During exploration, drillers often need to test an area’s resources before investing in pipelines so the practice of flaring to release gases is common. There are two issues that bother environmentalists.

First, it sure seems like a waste of energy and it is when flares are used for extended periods. The second problem is the stuff that doesn’t burn when flaring, like methane and other volatile organic compounds.  These compounds aren’t good for the environment (and certainly not for people) and can increase global warming and ozone problems.

And a whole 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 recently reported that such waste gas burning produces as much carbon pollution as some entire nations do and worldwide flaring wastes some $100 billion worth of gas.

Things will change this year, though. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue to allow flaring at exploratory wells, places where the expense of a pipeline connection may not be justified.  However, when production drilling commences, drillers will be required to capture what is now flared off. The agency claims drillers could actually profit $30 million by trapping and selling the gas under the rules, so this may not be such a bitter pill.



Earthgarage – Greener Car. Fatter Wallet.