A sizeable yellow flame at Interstate 30 and Beach Street in east Fort Worth is the result of natural gas being burned, or "flared," from a well operated by Fort Worth-based Finley Resources. Chairman Jim Finley said the company has completed two wells at the site since late December and has been flaring the gas as it prepares to connect the wells to a pipeline. He expects the flaring to end soon.
When it happens: After a gas well in the Barnett Shale is "fractured" by pumping in water and sand that breaks the rock containing the gas, much of that water flows back out under pressure from the gas. As the gas begins to flow, if the water can't be separated sufficiently, the gas can't be moved to a pipeline. Instead , it can be vented or flares until it has dried sufficiently. The result flame can flare 50 feet.
Not all wells are flared: the largest operators in the Barnett Shale, such as Devon Energy, say they can usually avoid flaring by having equipment on site that can handle the large volume of water that initially flows out of a well and still dry the gas enough to ship it to a pipeline.
How it's controlled: the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the Texas petroleum industry, allows the safe release of gas for 10 days after a well is completed, longer with a special exception. It also allows short-term releases under several other circumstances. No permit is needed for routine flaring and venting. Producers also prefer not to vent or flare gas, because they lose the revenue it would have brought if sold into a pipeline.
It is safe? Flaring is considered safer than venting, which is unburned gas released under pressure. Natural gas, which is mostly methane, is the cleanest-burning hydrocarbon, but it still introduces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere and also contributes to the formation of ozone, a pollutant and health hazarad, said Brian Boerner, environment management director for the city of Fort Worth.
-- Scott Nishimura
(Photo: Flaring on Jan. 16)