Oil Production Emissions are a Serious Threat to the Environment

Oil Production Emissions are a Serious Threat to the Environment

Flaring must be controlled globally if we want to ensure a reduction in the oil production emissions.

Controlling the ever-increasing pollution is extremely important not only for our health but also for the existence of our species. The combustion of fossil fuels, like gas and oil, is a major source of the greenhouse gases, which are responsible for Global Warming. For this reason, countries need to shift to renewable sources of energy so that these emissions could be reduced as much as possible. Having said that, converting to renewable energy is not so simple. Consequently, we will need to stick with fossil fuels for fulfilling our energy needs until we develop sustainable systems for renewable energy. However, we must introduce efficient ways of extracting and burning gas and oil in order to limit these harmful emissions.

A team of researchers led by Adam Brandt, an Assistant Professor of Energy Resources Engineering at the Stanford University, performed a global analysis to identify the major sources of emissions and rank countries by emission levels. This could be considered the first step towards developing international policies that will ensure the reduction in these emissions.

It is common knowledge that oil is always accompanied by some unwanted gas, which needs to be removed so that the effective extraction of oil is possible. If you have pipelines around the oil deposit this gas can be put into the system. The problem arises when the reserves of oil are so far away that the unwanted gas can’t be utilized by any means. In these cases, there is no other option for the companies but to burn it. This process of burning away the unwanted gas is commonly known as ‘Flaring’. The researching team found that flaring is the most Carbon-intensive part of oil production and a significant amount of emissions can be stopped by avoiding it.

Brandt did refer to the efforts of the World Bank in this regard by referring to the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership and hoped that the results will start coming pretty soon. He mentioned that they used three different sources for their research. In some cases, they were able to extract data from the governmental organizations (Natural Resource and Environmental agencies). Similarly, they collaborated with Aramco, an international oil company, to get hold of a commercial dataset. This helped the researchers to cover up the smaller projects that couldn’t be catered otherwise. Lastly, they relied on the literature of Petroleum Engineering to get the necessary information about the oil fields.

Talking about the challenges they faced, Brandt mentioned that most of the countries don’t report the flaring. Due to this reason, they had to take help from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The scientists at NOAA make use of the country-level average satellite data to estimate the amount of gas flared. The brightness of flare as seen from the space is the indicator which guides them in this regard. In the context of such countries, he quoted an example of Russia which doesn’t give any information about the flaring but NOAA can observe that from space. Brandt classified it as an eye in the sky that monitors all the countries of the world.

Contrary to that, he also discussed Canada which has achieved marvelous success in controlling flaring in the past 15 years. According to the rules of Canada, you cannot flare above a certain amount and failing to do so results in shutting down of the fields until the gas is handled properly. The oil production companies have a number of options at their disposal like converting the natural gas into liquid form, re-injecting it back into the ground, or install gas pipelines to provide the gas to the end users. These rules and regulations have allowed the Canadian authorities to significantly control the flaring in their country. Brandt summed up the regulation procedure in the following words:

Burning gas with no purpose isn’t allowed; put it back in the ground or find something useful to do with it.

He acknowledged that a global effort is needed to take care of this critical issue and international oil-producing companies have a huge role to play in this regard. He mentioned that a lot of flaring projects take place in those countries where local oil companies lack the expertise and the budget for practicing effective regulations. He believes that the international companies should work in those places to apply the best practices for preserving the environment. In Nigeria, the use of gas reinjection and other effective mechanisms has increased substantially in the recent years and Brandt urges other countries to follow this trend in the coming years to control the emission of harmful gases in our environment.

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