Driving Innovation and Efficiency: Flaring Operations Digitalization

It is widely known that gas flaring and venting are typical practices in the oil and gas industry during production and refinery operations. If not eliminated or managed correctly, both practices could result in significant greenhouse gas emissions, impacting the environment and contributing to climate change.

For that, companies involved with these practices must comply with strict regulations to minimize the negative impact as much as possible. These regulations generally require companies to implement devices and technologies that permit the correct management of flares and limit the amount of gas that can be flared or vented. Hence, operators must face day-to-day challenges, such as integrating new technologies and best practices to guarantee efficiency and safety, as well as conducting research to understand the environmental impacts of their practices and how to mitigate them.

Flaring, Venting and Challenges

Flaring is a process used to burn off excess gas such as methane, propane, and others associated with oil production and as a safety measure for controlled pressure reduction in systems. These operations produce large-scale flames (49-328 ft) that release significant amounts of pollutants and energy via thermal radiation, which are greatly influenced by predictable and unpredictable factors such as flare stack configuration, fuel composition, and ambient conditions. Therefore, companies seek to maintain at any time worker safety and have specialized labor while working with both big data and no data.

A typical flare stack installation involves using specialized equipment such as infrared cameras, gas analyzers, sensors, and software for data processing. This equipment is essential for ensuring the safe and efficient operation of the flare stack. Infrared cameras are often used to monitor the flame and detect any anomalies, while gas analyzers are used to measure the gas composition and calculate the efficiency of the flare (i.e., the percentage of gas burned). Furthermore, sensors are used to monitor the energy released by the flame and provide real-time information about ambient conditions, such as wind speed and direction, which can affect the dispersion of pollutants. Finally, specialized software collects and processes the data to provide feedback to operators, who can use this information to optimize the flare’s operation and comply with emissions reduction targets.

Regulations for Flaring and Venting Operations

Oil and gas companies are subject to regulations regarding flaring and venting operations, which are aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and minimizing negative environmental impacts.

Some key regulations were established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which passed a series of rules to control toxic emissions produced by oil refineries. The regulations include key provisions, such as requiring continuous monitoring of different engineering operations, establishing limits on flare emissions, and mandating reporting of flare performance data to the EPA. As an example, here we quote some of them:

  • Monitor the presence of the pilot flame(s) using a device capable of detecting that the pilot flame(s) is present;
  • Conduct an initial visible emissions monitoring using an observation period of 2 hours;
  • The flow rate monitoring systems must be able to correct for the temperature and pressure of the system and output parameters in standard conditions;
  • Develop a flare management plan to minimize flaring during periods of startup, shutdown, or emergency releases. 

Additionally, there are other pertinent rules that originate from:

  • International regulations: Companies operating in certain countries must comply with international agreements, such as the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming.
  • Industry standards: Oil and gas companies may also be subject to industry standards, such as those established by the American Petroleum Institute (API), which provide guidelines for safe and environmentally responsible operations.
  • Clean Air Act (CAA): The CAA requires companies to obtain permits for major sources of air pollution, including flaring and venting operations, and sets emission limits for certain pollutants.

As a consequence of these compliance challenges and the growing interest in leveraging new technologies, companies have started investing more than in previous years to understand the key considerations and best practices for successful integration.

Oil and Gas Industry Digitalization: AI

Undoubtedly, technology has greatly impacted society and enabled companies to evolve significantly. In recent years, its integration has become increasingly frequent across all sectors as companies commit to a digital transformation. Among all technologies, Artificial Intelligence (AI) stands out due to its ability to “learn” and improve its performance over time. Unlike conventional technologies that cannot adapt to new or unknown situations, AI solves those limitations by analyzing large amounts of data and deriving patterns from it. Consequently, it results in improved efficiency and productivity, leading to greater profitability and competitiveness in the market.

The oil and gas industry has always prioritized the integration and continuous development of these technologies across its main subdivisions, also known as Upstream, Midstream, and Downstream. Examples of AI applications include:

  • Processing large amounts of data to identify potential drilling sites, optimize production rates, and increase recovery;
  • Recognizing and analyzing the status of pieces of equipment through images for preventive maintenance
  • Analyzing data from sensors and cameras to monitor safety conditions and detect potential hazards in real-time, and
  • Optimizing prediction models of energy consumption, which reduces energy waste and costs.

Therefore, implementing technologies such as AI allows this industry to increase the efficiency of sensible operations and their effects on the environment. In other words, digital transformation completely changes how companies deliver value to their customers while adding operational effectiveness and efficiency.

The future of Gas Production

The future of extracting non-renewable resources, such as oil and gas, will be denoted by increased adoption of environmentally friendly technologies and practices as humanity transitions to cleaner energy sources. This includes leveraging technologies like renewable energy and carbon capture and storage, as well as adopting more efficient practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and minimize environmental impacts.

Regarding the transition process, renewable energies such as solar, wind, and hydro are expected to experience rapid growth and continue expanding in the coming years. In the meantime, fossil fuels will continue to provide the energy differential. Thus, adopting emerging technologies will play a vital role in achieving these objectives.

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