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Flaring vs. Green Completions

Green Completions vs. FlaringFlaring of gas wells is one of those processes connected with natural gas development that most people find rather fascinating, but many don’t well understand. Even fewer have heard of what is already gradually replacing flaring and will soon totally replace it; something called green completions. Questions, therefore, abound. The majority of these questions center on why flaring or green completions are necessary.

Here’s why.

The water used during the process is held in the formation, after a well is hydraulically fractured. NaturalGasNOW.org is published from the Marcellus Shale region where the shale is so dry the shale starts to imbibe this water. If left in the formation too long, the water absorbed into the rock will cause it to swell–think of a dry sponge sitting in a pool of liquid. The pathways for the natural gas to move are cut off as the rock swells; the overall production of the well diminishes.

The well is opened up to allow water to flow back to surface so it is not imbibed. However, natural gas also surfaces with the water. Venting natural gas directly into the atmosphere is not an option because natural gas or methane (CH4) is a known greenhouse gas.  Moreover, under certain weather conditions, natural gas can concentrate in a single area creating a hazardous situation. Therefore, a method is needed to control this surfacing gas.

Flaring is commonly used in situations when no pipeline line is available to flow the gas to sales. During the process of flaring, the rising gas and water are effectively separated and the gas is burned off. Through combustion of natural gas, CO2 and H2O are created but CO2, though a greenhouse gas like CH4, is less impactful on the environment and poses no hazard.

Green Completions vs. Flaring

Green Completions vs. Flaring

If a pipeline is available to take gas to sales, the natural gas is not flared off. instead, it is separated from the water and put it to a pipeline (see above). This method is called “cleaning up into sales” in industry parlance, “reduced emissions completions” to regulators and “green completions” to others. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, in 2012, observed 67% of wells already sent methane to sales.  Northeastern Pennsylvania gas companies have also been using this technique ever more steadily. Here is an example of the portable equipment often used in the field.

Green completions system

Portable Green Completions System by Fracmaster USA

What makes this method a greener alternative to flaring is that no unnecessary green house gases of any kind are emitted while the well flows back its water. Gas companies also prefer this method of green completions for the simple reason that it captures more natural gas to sell. Here’s the basic process compared to flaring:

More detailed discussions of green completions can be found here and here.

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12 thoughts on “Flaring vs. Green Completions

  1. I’m confused. What sense does it make to drill a well without a pipeline nearby to get it to market? Drilling a well prior to this induces flaring AND the well must still be capped waiting for the pipeline to reach the well. Thus the flared gas is wasted and the gas still in the well just sits there not making any money for the company.

    • Frank; they will drill some wells before putting pipelines because drilling is the only way t0 know for sure what is in the shale and how much will come out. They are called test wells. Once they know just what is in the ground and what is coming out, they can them put in the proper pipelines and processing facilities. That is why they are doing green completions in areas like eastern Pa where they now have enough lines in place.

  2. Nice article. Another advancement is taking well head gas and putting it on a mobile LNG Liquifaction system. Dresser-Rand and GE both have units that are hitting the market now. In deep south Texas, in the Eagle Ford, there is not pipeline readily available. The units will allow landowners and production companies to realize returns on a valueble asset that is being flared.

  3. Alarge number of wells are being drilled, flared, then shut in primarily to lease acres by production as leases are nearing experation and operators have large amounts of cash tied up in exorbitant sign on bonus’s.

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  7. Great informative article and responses. Drilling schedules (and lease expirations) also dictate to some extent why wells are drilled and then capped. The other issue with pipelines is the increasing difficulty to get landowners to agree to pipelines crossing their properties at reasonable prices. It only takes one holdout to bring a pipeline project to a halt…it’s a long process.

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