International oil major Total announced that it will reduce gas flaring by 50% at its operated facilities worldwide by 2012. In 2000, the company had introduced a zero-flaring policy for new projects.
Flaring is the burning of associated gas—produced whenever oil is produced—when it cannot be used for another purpose. Unlike oil, associated gas is difficult to store and transport to market. Options include:
Using it immediately, in local plants, for power generation or for industrial and domestic applications.
Exporting it to consumer countries, when large amounts of natural gas have been discovered in the region.
Re-injecting it in the field, which is not always technically feasible.
Disposing of it through flaring.
Another option under consideration and development by oil companies is the remote production of such stranded gas to products that are more easily shipped—Gas-to-Liquids fuels, for example.
In November 2005, Total launched a new R&D program on converting natural gas to liquids (GtL processes). The company signed a cooperation agreement with a number of partners in science and industry in this area, including Battelle subsidiary Velocys.
Total is working to develop a new technology that uses microchannel reactors and more active catalysts to produce the synthesis gas used in the Fischer-Tropsch process. Velocys is a microchannel technology specialist, with its chemical processors being characterized by parallel arrays of microchannels, with typical dimensions in the 0.025-cm to 0.5-cm (0.010- to 0.200-inch) range.
Microchannel-based reactors could reduce overall system volumes by 10- to 100-fold compared to conventional systems. Development of such compact synthetic fuel production systems would be suitable for installation on land or on offshore floating production facilities. This would offer Total a way to monetize stranded gas resources, much as Syntroleum is proposing with its compact GTL Barge. (Earlier post.)
Total joined the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) in March 2004. Set up in August 2002 at the initiative of the World Bank, the public-private partnership facilitates and supports national efforts to use currently flared gas. Partners include governments of oil producing countries, state-owned companies and major international oil companies.
More than 150 billion cubic meters (bcm) (or 5.3 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas are being flared and vented annually worldwide—equivalent to 25% of the United States’ gas consumption or 30% of the European Union’s, according to the GGFR. The annual 40 bcm (or 1.4 trillion cubic feet) of gas flared in Africa alone is equivalent to half of that continent’s power consumption.
Flaring gas adds about 350 million tons of CO2 in annual emissions—more than the potential yearly emission reductions from projects currently submitted under the Kyoto mechanisms.
In 2001, Total made a commitment to manage its greenhouse gas emissions. Associated gas flaring accounted for 23% of its greenhouse gas emissions in 2005. Despite higher production, the amounts of gas flared in Total-operated facilities declined by 40% between 1998 and 2005.