Black Carbon Emissions from Associated Natural Gas Flaring
Abstract:Approximately 150 billion cubic meters (BCM) of associated natural gas is flared and vented in the world, annually, emitting greenhouse gases and other pollutants with no energy benefit. Based on estimates from satellite observations, the United States flares about 7 BCM of gas, annually (the 5th highest flaring volume worldwide). The volume of gas flared in the US is growing, largely due to flaring in the Bakken formation in North Dakota.
Black carbon (BC), a combustion by-product from gas flaring, is a short-term climate pollutant that absorbs shortwave radiation both in the atmosphere and on snow and ice surfaces. Flaring may be a significant source of global BC climate effects. For example, modeling estimates suggest that associated gas flares are the source of a significant percentage of BC surface concentrations in the Arctic, where BC-induced ice melting occurs. However, there are no direct field measurements of BC emission factors from associated gas flares. Emission measurements of BC that include a range of flaring conditions are needed to ascertain the magnitude of BC emissions from this source.
Over one hundred flare plumes were sampled in the Bakken formation using a small aircraft. Methane, carbon dioxide, and BC were measured simultaneously, allowing the calculation of BC mass emission factors using the carbon balance method. BC was measured using two methods; optical absorption was measured using a Particle Soot Absorption Photometer (PSAP) and BC particle number and mass concentrations were measured with a Single Particle Soot Photometer (SP2). Simultaneous sampling of BC absorption and mass allows for the calculation of the BC mass absorption cross-section.
Results indicate that emission factor variability between flares in the region is significant; there are two orders of magnitude variation in the BC emission factors.