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Flaring can concern stakeholders as it involves a visible flame at the end of a tall stack. While flaring is important from a safety and environmental standpoint, we are working to reduce flaring events across our operations.
What is flaring?
Flaring is the controlled combustion of excess hydrocarbons, and other contaminants that cannot be handled by processing facilities, at the end of a flare stack or boom. It is a necessary practice at any energy facility to manage gases that accumulate as hydrocarbon feedstocks are transformed into useful products.
Why do we flare?
There are many safety and environmental reasons for flaring. Flaring is an important measure used to dispose of waste gas that would pose a hazard to workers, nearby residents and facility equipment if it were to be released in a non-routine occurrence like emergencies, process upsets, equipment failures or power outages. Essentially, flaring is used to safely depressurize a process unit to reduce risk of pressure build up that, if unmanaged, could lead to a combustive incident.
Flaring is also done to reduce the toxicity of gases by converting those toxic components, such as hydrogen sulphide (often found in sour gas), into less harmful substances like sulphur dioxide. It can also be used to convert hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide, which has less impact on our atmosphere from a global warming potential and volatile organic compounds perspective.
How is flaring controlled?
Flaring, like other aspects of energy production, is tightly regulated. In Alberta, the Alberta Energy Regulator ensures companies that flare are doing so in a controlled and monitored way.
For certain types of emissions, like sulphur dioxide, releases must fall within regulator-approved quantity limits. These limits are put in place to maintain high quality air standards for areas neighbouring operations. Emission levels exceeding these limits are subject to penalty.
Can flaring be eliminated?
New technologies and industry best practices show promise for reducing or even eliminating flaring by:
- minimizing waste gas production from processing units
- using waste gas in production instead of releasing it
Using these technologies and best practices it would be possible for us to:
- capture energy value that would have otherwise been wasted
- minimize emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants
The reliability of our operations and equipment used also greatly impacts the need to flare. Implementing effective procedures and controls throughout our operations is critical to minimizing overall flare volumes. Through stringent procedures and controls, we can minimize waste gas volumes, make use of waste gas recovery systems and recycle recovered gas for reuse as fuel or process gas.
Flaring simply because it is convenient, or because it has been a long-standing industry operating practice, is unacceptable; however, while industry’s objective is to eliminate routine flaring and minimize non-routine flaring, emergency flaring is still the most fail-safe operational measure available to prevent a serious incident.