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Flare and vent systems exist in essentially all segments of the oil and gas industry and are

used for two basic types of waste gas disposal: intermittent and continuous. Intermittent
applications may include the disposal of waste volumes from emergency pressure relief
episodes, operator initiated or instrumented depressurization events (e.g.,
depressurization of process equipment for inspection or maintenance purposes, or
depressurization of piping for tie-ins), plant or system upsets, well servicing and testing,
pigging events, and routine blowdown of instruments, drip pots and scrubbers.
Continuous applications may include disposal of associated gas and/or tank vapours at oil
production facilities where gas conservation is uneconomical or until such economics can
be evaluated, casing gas at heavy oil wells, process waste or byproduct streams that either
have little or no value or are uneconomical to recover (e.g., vent gas from glycol
dehydrators, acid gas from gas sweetening units, and sometimes stabilizer overheads),
and vent gas from gas-operated devices where natural gas is used as the supply medium
(e.g., instrument control loops, chemical injection pumps, samplers, etc.). Typically,
waste gas volumes are flared if they pose an odour, health or safety concern, and
otherwise are vented.
There are inconsistencies in what individual companies may include in their reported
vented and flared volumes and, depending on the jurisdiction, this information may not
be reported at all. The vented and flared volumes reported in production accounting
statistics typically comprise, where applicable, casing gas venting, waste associated gas
flows, treater and stabilizer off-gas and gas volumes discharged during process upsets and
equipment depressurization events. Storage and loading/unloading losses are assumed to be
generally excluded from reported vented volumes, and, therefore, are assessed separately.
Miscellaneous vented and flared volumes not normally included in reported vented and
flared volumes may include instrument vent gas, compressor start gas, purge gas and blanket
gas that is discharged directly to the atmosphere, dehydrator still column off-gas, purge gas
and releases from inspection and maintenance activities.
Where vented and flared volumes are reported all measured quantities are usually
captured; however, flow meters are normally only installed on larger continuous vent or
flare systems, if at all. Where there is no measurement data the volumes may still be
estimated. The problems here are the lack of detailed estimation guidelines, the lack of
any formal tracking of the activity data needed to make many of these estimates (e.g.,
frequency and details of equipment or piping blowdown events, frequency of compressor
engine starts, etc), and differences in which sources individual operators are even
Historically, there has been a problem throughout the industry with some vented volumes
being reported as flared. The actual split has a significant impact on the total CO2equivalent (CO2E) emissions from these activities since unburned CH4 contributes
approximately 7.7 times more radiative forcing on a 100-year time horizon than fully
combusted CH4. Often production accounting forms for production facilities, the major
source of venting and flaring, only provide a single cell for reporting of total vented and
flared volumes.

At gas processing plants, acid gas volumes are normally reported separately from other
venting or flaring volumes; however, the latter amounts are reported as a single
aggregated value. Venting and flaring from gas gathering systems is also reported as a
single aggregate value.
Some operators have tended to use vented and flared entries as balancing terms to
achieve reasonable metering differences when completing production accounting reports.
The problems with conserving or vented and flared volumes may include small volumes
involved at individual sites, inconsistencies in flow, poor access to gas gathering systems,
concerns about putting any back-pressure on the casing in order to use the gas, and
operational difficulties associated with using this gas (e.g., freeze-up problems in the
winter) in the absence of any costly onsite dehydration facilities.
The actual quantification of flows in a flare system allows a review of the economics
associated with conserving the flare gas. The amount of residual flow in intermittent flare
systems is the sum of the purge gas flow rate and leakage rates into the flare system. To
distinguish between purge gas flows and leakage, the minimum required purge gas rate
may be calculated using the procedure presented by Stone et al. (1992), and subtracted
from the total residual flare rate. The difference is then the amount of leakage or
potentially avoidable gas loss.
Physical Acoustics Corporation has developed an acoustic leak detector, which
incorporates a leak quantification algorithm developed by British Petroleum, for
detecting and quantifying leakage through flare and steam valves. The technology has
proven very useful in both identifying which valves are leaking into flare and vent
headers, and facilitating objective repair decisions. Panametrics Inc. has developed a
clamp-on ultrasonic flow meter that may be used to measure gas flows through leaking
valves; their instrument offers better accuracies but requires more effort to use and has
some limitations regarding the minimum allowable gas pressure in the pipe. Other
methods include velocity measurements and tracer tests.
In each case, the hydrocarbon concentration in the stream should be determined using a
portable combustible-gas detector or based on a detailed laboratory analysis of the flare
gas (where available).
Total residual gas flows in the flare systems at 4 older gas-processing plants in the US
(i.e., flows outside of blowdown or emergency relief events) amounted to 2.37 x 103
m3/d/site (0.0022 Mt CO2E/y/site) or 24.4 percent of total natural gas losses at each site.
Similar results have been observed at gas processing plants in Canada. In several cases
the flows from individual systems were sufficient to potentially justify installing a flaregas recovery unit. Another option is to target the actual source or sources of the residual
gas flow in these systems (e.g., excessive purge gas consumption and leaking pressurerelief devices, drains and blowdown valves connected to the flare header). Typically,
these causes are difficult to isolate, usually require a major plant shutdown to fix and are
likely to reoccur.