The extent of the global problem of gas flaring can be seen in this satellite photo of North America, that is quite bewildering at first sight. On the right we see the twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul Minnesota, but the much larger spread-out bright light on the left is out in the middle of nowhere, in the almost unpopulated states northwest of Minnesota. What on earth is that light there? Has some new city sprung up in those deserted lands, unknown to the rest of us?
No. These are gas flares from the recently discovered Bakken formation of North Dakota. The U.S. Energy Information Administration animated map of Bakken drilling activity between 1985 and 2010 shows the rapid exploration and exploitation of the region’s gas resources. The Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership estimates that at least 150 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas is flared worldwide every year.
The MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region flares about a third of the gas flared globally. So – on Gas Flaring Reduction Day in Oman today, GE Energy is making a presentation of its technology to solve it. But shouldn’t the US company fix matters at home first?
While this image of gas flaring shows just one example of the environmental ravages of gas flaring, in the US, the Middle East and North Africa account for a third of global gas flaring, a problem that GE in the Middle East is addressing.
Sami Kamel, General Manager, Regional Marketing, Middle East and Africa for GE said: “GE Energy has a long track record in working with governments and national and international oil and gas companies on gas flaring reduction. We have executed several projects and established intimate knowledge of this high-specialty sector and gained solid experience in identifying, structuring and developing power generation projects based on gas flaring reduction.”
Unlike oil, natural gas cannot be trucked to the nearest gas plant for processing. A gas-gathering pipeline and processing plant infrastructure must be in place to condition natural gas for retail use. Producers sometimes decide it is not economically feasible to to build a new pipeline into an area of ongoing development, or to connect a well to an existing pipeline. Excessive line pressures or mechanical problems can also cause intermittent flares, even once the gas well is connected to a pipeline.
As the world depletes its traditional oil supplies, the unconventional (read: uneconomic until oil is no longer accessible) deposits of shale gas are now being exploited. Now that we are scraping the bottom of the barrel in our desperate last-ditch digging for the last of the fossil energy to be had, it is more important than ever that we don’t waste the last of this precious resource.
GE Energy offers a solution. It has devised its Jenbacher gas engine to capture and utilize onsite the gas flares that would otherwise go to waste. Instead of hauling diesel generators onsite for the electricity needed for drilling, the Jenbacker engine burns the natural gas fuel itself for this purpose; which lowers carbon dioxide emissions, compared with diesel.
GE Energy currently has more than 325 Jenbacher gas engines installed in 15 countries producing up to 470 Mega-Watts (MW) through capturing associated petroleum gas and using it as feedstock for power generation.
But with such problems in the US, as the satellite image shows; why does GE Energy have to look abroad for business? The lack of climate legislation in the US is a key reason. Other nations require better carbon reduction, and husbandry of our natural resources, because of better environmental policies than the US, when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions.
Most US environmental policy was written before the oil industry got a stranglehold on US political decision-making. In 1999, North Dakota flared only 3% of its gas production. In 2007 the state produced over 70 billion cubic feet of natural gas and nearly 20% of that production was flared.
GE Energy must look abroad, where policies have more potential to make their invention appreciated.
“With climate change mitigation now high on top of the agenda of many national governments, we are seeing increasing commitment from governments to reduce gas flaring,” said Kamel.
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