Significant gas resources go up in smoke

Gas worth billions of Norwegian kroner is burned each year in connection with oil production. This is because there are no good systems in place to handle the gas that often accompanies wellstreams.

Flaring is controlled burning of gas in flare stacks on facilities and in process plants. According to the World Bank, at least NOK 150 billion cubic metres of gas are flared each year. This is more than the total gas consumption in Germany and France together. The flaring results in emissions of about 400 million tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere each year, making flaring a significant contributor to global warming.

In the early days of Norway's oil industry, there was no network of pipelines on the shelf to transport the gas. Even so, the Norwegian authorities introduced a ban on flaring, with the exception of what is necessary to ensure the safety of the facilities. This meant that the oil companies could not sell the oil until they found a solution for the gas – either by using it for pressure support or by arranging for pipeline transport to the customers.

The ban on flaring – and the Government's introduction of a tax on carbon dioxide emissions in 1990 – have entailed that the average total gas emissions to air from petroleum activities on the Norwegian shelf are just one-third of the global average.

For quite some time, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) has advocated the injection of gas back into the reservoirs so that more oil can be produced, thus enabling better exploitation of the gas resources, rather than burning them up. The NPD is also an associated board member of the World Bank's initiative to reduce flaring, Global gas flaring reduction (GGFR). This initiative was launched at a world summit on sustainable development in 2002, and supports national efforts to utilise gas that would otherwise be burned. GGFR follows up gas flaring in the respective countries by obtaining data and reports from oil companies and responsible authorities. It also uses satellite measurements to monitor global gas flaring.

GGFR has asked the NPD for assistance in the work to reduce flaring, based on the Directorate's extensive experience in assisting other countries with responsible management of gas resources. Since 1994, the NPD has cooperated with Russia in this area, and with Nigeria since 1998. The objective is a general strengthening of petroleum management in the countries, as well as to put systems in place to collect data on how much gas is produced and sold. Without such systems, it would be impossible to know the magnitude of existing gas resources, or to manage what happens to them, according to principal engineer Steinar Njå in the NPD:

"GGFR measures global flaring using satellites. The objective of our work is to bring the measurements down to earth," he says.

"That means helping ensure that the measurements are carried out correctly and locally, so that they can be incorporated into a data base which makes it possible to utilize these resources," he adds.

According to Njå, Nigeria has succeeded in achieving much better control in its management of gas resources, although the delta region still faces significant challenges because of the conflict there. The country has substantially reduced flaring, and has built up a local network for use of gas to generate power, as well as to improve oil recovery.

In Russia, the authorities have recently ordered oil companies to reduce gas flaring to five per cent of the volume of associated gas from 2012. The country has devoted considerable work to establishing methodologies and systems for handling the gas, such as improving metering techniques. Some fields now generate electricity using gas that was previously flared.

The NPD will also work with Iraq, Angola, East Timor and Ghana to look into possibilities for utilising the associated gas, thus reducing the need for flaring.

Topics: Environment