Well Flaring FAQ's
What is flaring?
Flaring is the burning of gases encountered that are unable to be processed or sold during drilling and testing of an oil and gas well. Flaring can also occur during well completion and workover operations as part of the well testing process. This allows an operator to test the potential volumes of hydrocarbons found to determine the economic viability of the well.
Why must oil and gas wells need to be flared?
1. Well control safety during drilling. Flaring can sometimes occur to control a well “kick.” A kick is an unexpected pressure increase during drilling operations if the mud weight is too low, or if a drilled formation has a higher pressure than anticipated.
Kicks release hydrocarbon fluids that must be circulated out of the drill hole in order to maintain a safe operating pressure and reduce the risk of serious equipment damage, injury, or loss of life. The hydrocarbons from a kick go through a choke manifold to a “gas buster” which directs the gases into a flare stack where the hydrocarbons are safely burned.
2. Well completion and testing operations. To assist in determining the economic viability of the hydrocarbons discovered, an operator must take measurements of the pressure, flow rates, and composition of the hydrocarbons. This information is useful to help characterize the reservoir and to determine how to safely handle the hydrocarbons in pipelines and processing plants.
How long can an oil or gas well flare?
Guidelines in Idaho Administrative Code (IDAPA 20.07.02.413) specify that a well can be flared for no more than fourteen days without paying royalties and severance taxes on the flared hydrocarbons. Under no circumstances is a well allowed to flare hydrocarbons for more than sixty days.
Flaring may occur at various times during the day or at night. This is done to test the reservoir at regular time intervals and for safety reasons. At times, an operator may choose to limit flow volumes and flaring operations in order to minimize concerns from local residents.
Is there another way to test a well without flaring?
Yes. In some cases, a gathering pipeline may have previously been installed near the new well. Then a well can potentially be flow tested into the gathering pipeline directly to a facility where it can be processed and sold.
An alternative to flaring is to vent the gases directly into the atmosphere without being burned. However, methane is several times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Idaho Department of Lands does not consider venting an acceptable alternative to flaring. If the gas volumes and composition are sufficient to sustain stable combustion, the gases should be flared. Burning reduces emissions of ozone-forming pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The main by-product of flaring is carbon dioxide.
Before flaring can occur, who must be notified?
Prior to testing a well by flaring, and operator must first notify all owners of occupied structures within a one-quarter mile radius of the well, and the county where the well is located.
Who regulates emissions from flaring operations?
The Air Quality Division within the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) assures compliance with federal and state health-based air quality standards by monitoring air quality and collecting data. It is the operator’s responsibility to contact IDEQ to determine if additional permits or restrictions related to emissions from flaring are required by the state. Additional information on air quality may be found on the IDEQ web site here: https://www.deq.idaho.gov/air-quality/