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Our look at
GAS WELL FLARES

Flaring a Gas Well

After a Marcellus gas well is drilled and hydraulically fractured, open flaring is often used to test production of the well. The EPA and Pennsylvania DEP enforce limited air quality regulations around Marcellus Shale natural gas wells and facilities (Most gas sites are permitted individually instead of cumulatively).
 

 

Even though open flaring is permitted, companies can use 'greener' options to work around flaring (more below). In most cases, these options create additional profits for the production company, but usually require a gas gathering pipeline to be in place first.

 

A large number of pollutants are released into the air during the flaring process, making it an undesirable practice. Included in these airborne pollutants are the chemicals used to frac the well, as well as any of 5-dozen other pollutants including the following: acetalhyde, acrolein, benzene, ethyl benzene, formaldehyde, hexane, naphthalene, propylene, toluene, and xylenes.



Flare near Pittsburgh Mills Mall
Photo: Caelan Borowiec

Drilling companies can use "green completions" to improve air quality and provide themselves and their shareholders with extra revenue. These are mentioned in a January 2009 report by Dr. Armendariz of SMU which can be found here:
 

"Green Completions" or
"The Green Flowback Process"

"Some recent reports of the effectiveness of green completions in the U.S. are available, including one by the U.S. EPA which estimated 70% capture of formerly released gases with green completions. If green completion procedures can capture 61% to 98% of the gases formerly released during well completions, the process would be a more environmentally friendly alternative to flaring of the gases, since flaring destroys a valuable commodity and prevents its beneficial use. Green completions would also certainly be more beneficial than venting of the gases, since this can release very large quantities of methane and VOCs to the atmosphere. Another factor in favor of capturing instead of flaring is that flaring can produce carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and particulate matter (soot) emissions."

Full Report (PDF)

 
Four flares at Range Resources' Goettel site
4 flares at a Marcellus Shale site

 
  

FLARING

"More than 250 toxins have been identified as being produced and released during flaring, including benzene, naphthalene, styrene, toluene and xylene. Incomplete combustion during flaring, which can be identified by visible black smoke from a flare stack, yields hazardous pollutants. Health effects associated with these chemicals are wide ranging and can be severe, especially for those living near flare sites. Exposure to benzene is a well known cause of leukemia. Naphthalene can damage the membrane of red blood cells. Styrene is a skin and eye irritant. Toluene can affect the nervous system. Xylene can affect the central nervous system and stunt human development. Other known effects of exposure to these toxins include renal failure, cardiovascular failure, emphysema, bronchitis, endocrine and immune dysfunction, reproductive disorders, and autoimmune diseases. Animals (livestock, wildlife and pets), crops and vegetation are affected by the chemicals produced by flaring as well as people. Flaring can cause soil acidification, leading to depleted nutrients, lost fertility and reduced capacity for agricultural production."

Source: THE FLARING BOOM
Western Organization of Resource Councils

Full Report (PDF - 4.38MB offsite)

  
Below are photos and videos of gas flares
from Marcellus Shale gas wells

  
  
Pre-dawn hours.... that's not the moon or sunrise...
   
  
Light at the end of the tunnel is a flared well, lighting the darkened road
  
  
Gas flare
Gas flare over the distant horizon
      
  
Looking across a residential driveway toward a flared well next door
  
  
Gas flare that caught an impoundment liner on fire
  
  
Short videos (w/sound) of gas well flares:
Video 1 - Distant video of sky on fire
Video 2 - Close-up of a single flare
Video 3 - Twin flares at same site
  
  
The air hangs heavy with a thick, bowel-like putrid musk odor
  
  
Gas flare and residual waste tanker
        
  
  
  
Gas flare near Avella, Pennsylvania
     
  
Wind-whipped gas flare on the top of hill in Chartiers Township
     
  
  
  
Big gas flare on this one!
     
  
  
  
 
 
FLARED WELL IN
WASHINGTON COUNTY
PENNSYLVANIA
 
  
  
  
  
How to toast marshmallows from your
front porch in Hickory Pennsylvania
  
  
Triple flares at gas well site
Early August 2011
Triple flares at the Ward Unit in Canton Twp, Pa.
 
 
Marcellus shale flare
December 2011
Smoky flare at the Eleanor West Unit
 
  

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