What is “flaring” in chemical plants?

BAYTOWN, TX – Flares and thick smoke could be seen for miles in the air, triggered by a power outage at the Chevron Phillips Chemical Company in Baytown on Tuesday morning, company officials said.

The incident occurred at the factory located at 9500 Interstate 10 East.

Chevron Phillips released a statement on social media, explaining what was going on. The message said, in part:

“Our Baytown plant experienced an unplanned operational issue due to a power outage. You are seeing flaring and smoke as a result of this incident. There is no danger to plant employees or the community. We apologize for any inconvenience this incident may have caused. Additional updates will be released if the condition changes. An All Clear message will be displayed at the end of the event.

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‘Unforeseen operational issue’ causes flaring at Chevron Phillips Baytown facility, officials say

PHOTOS: Aerial footage of Baytown after flaring at the Chevron Phillips facility

So what exactly is flaring? KPRC 2 found a list of quick facts, compiled by Baker Hughes.

1. To begin with, what is the pole with a flame that we often see on industrial sites?

The tall, thin structure with flames or steam coming out of the top is called a flare. It is a gas burning device used on industrial sites to burn waste or other unwanted gases.

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2. So why does the torchiere produce fire?

A flare produces a fire as part of a controlled combustion that takes place for a few typical reasons: 1) as part of testing to stabilize the pressure and flow rate of a well 2) waste gas management that does not can be captured or treated 3) for safety or emergency situations to release pressure. Flares are mainly found in refineries, chemical and petrochemical plants, natural gas processing plants, offshore exploration platforms, wellheads and landfills.

3. Does flaring release carbon emissions?

The primary purpose of the flare is to burn off the vent gases, much of which is methane. When methane (which you might remember from chemistry class as CH4) is burned, it produces carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O).

If the methane is not burned, it will be released into the atmosphere as it is, and it is invisible or looks like steam (for downstream flares).

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Methane is 25 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide when it comes to warming the planet over a 100-year period. This explains why this flame is so important. Operators should have flares optimized for combustion efficiency, so that as much methane as possible is burned, converting it to carbon dioxide and minimizing a facility’s long-term carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.

4. What are common misconceptions about flaring?

First, people see the fire and automatically think it’s dangerous. But the reality is that if someone sees a flare venting methane masked by steam, it’s much worse. The larger and brighter the flame from a flare, the less impact that facility has on the environment, in terms of carbon emissions.

5. How can oil and gas companies keep burning if they want to reduce their emissions?

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Companies can reduce routine flaring by finding uses for the gas, instead of burning it. Capturing this gas gives operators the ability to produce more energy. However, today’s technology also allows operators to monitor and measure combustion efficiency in real time, which means they can reduce the amount of carbon emissions released from flare stacks. With flare optimization solutions available today, plants can now operate with an efficiency of 96% or more. This improvement can reduce up to 12,100 metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions per flare per year.

You can find additional information about flare optimization solutions here.

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