Skip to comments.TCEQ: Turning up refinery flares could fix Houstonís air
Posted on 05/25/2011 5:26:20 AM PDT by thackney
Small changes in the use of open flames, or flares, to burn off pressurized gases at oil refineries and chemical plants could help improve Houstons air quality, a new study suggests.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Qualitys study, which was released Tuesday, indicates that fire-belching flares could destroy harmful gases with a higher rate of efficiency if operated in a different way.
Stacks are designed to be relatively smokeless through the use of steam so the sight of leaping flames and billowing smoke from plants has unnerved Houstonians for decades. But the study suggests that a visible flame is important in routine flaring, not just in emergencies.
When you see a fireball, things are burning, said Susana Hildebrand, TCEQs chief engineer. Thats what you want.
The TCEQ ordered the $2.2 million study from the University of Texas at Austin after finding higher emissions than expected from flares at several plants. It is the first look at how they destroy smog-forming compounds in nearly 30 years, the agency said.
Operating efficiently Flares are an emergency mechanism used to burn off pressurized gases. Pilot lights at the top of the stacks ignite the gases to prevent them from wafting into nearby neighborhoods.
For years, regulators have made smog-fighting plans with the assumption that flares destroyed at least 98 percent of the gases.
But the flare in the TCEQ study burned less than half of the gases when steam was used to reduce visibility of the flame. Without steam, the flare had a visible orange-yellow flame that destroyed 99.9 percent of the gases.
You can easily use too much steam, said David Brymer, TCEQs director of air quality. The key is to operate within an optimal window of efficiency.
Jay Olaguer, director of air quality at the Houston Advanced Research Center, which was not involved in the study, said the findings will be extremely important in the next round of plans for reducing the regions smog, or ozone.
Usher in a new day Harris County, which is known as one of nations smoggiest places, accounts for 21 percent of the 1,519 registered flares in Texas.
The nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds emitted from smokestacks, as well as tailpipes, mix with sunlight to form ozone, a colorless gas that can cause lung damage.
Some environmentalists said the study puts the TCEQ on solid ground to require changes in the way flares are used if at all, because of new technologies for non-emergency emissions.
It should usher in a new day, said Matthew Tejada, executive director of Air Alliance Houston. These are emissions that are always there, day in and day out, even in little amounts. But when you have hundreds of these sources, they add up.
Hildebrand said TCEQ will use the studys findings to educate industry about how to operate flares in the most efficient manner. She also said they may be used in the permitting process but did not hint at any new or revised rules for flaring.
Marise Lada Textor, of the 125-member East Harris County Manufacturers Association, said the industry group was in favor of the study and believed it was well-planned and carefully managed, but was not ready to comment on the findings.
They could have had a high school student do a lab report for free!
“When you put water on a fire, it doesn’t burn as hot”!!!!!
It displaces the oxygen you friggen idots!
Looks like it could help alleviate global cooling as well. Maybe they need another study.
This would make refinery flares more visible, which would lead to increased pressure on the refineries to reduce flaring. If implemented, this could reduce refinery oil losses, which average some 1% of input.
Bull! The author is obviously not from S.E. Texas.
Unless you are counting petroleum products used as fuel, I don't believe your number is true. Do you have a source for that information?
Houston’s air quality is better by far than Manhattan’s, La’s, and some other big cities. In fact, having lived in Seattle, I don’t notice any difference at all in Houston’s air quality compared to Seattle - other than the heat and the humidity, of course.
Might be thinking of total energy in needed: The refineries do need a lot for pumps, cooling water supplies, product line heating (the cracking process itself needs to heat all of the oil), storage and transportation pumps, etc.
But flares? A very, very small part - but the only part that is visible!
It's that humidity that punches you in the face when you go outside every morning, as if to say "You're in Houston, Beeyotch, and don't forget it!"
On the right cloudy night around here the flares make for an interesting show.
Total energy consumed in a refinery will certainly vary depending upon the processes used and the oil being processed. But I would expect 10~15% of the total energy into a refinery is consumed in the process.
I don’t have a link for that data. However, recently I was working on a minor refinery expansion process. In the conference room they constantly run a overall system monitoring board showing consumption of fuel, electricity, input, output, stock levels, etc. Included on that board was a running calculation of the total energy used per barrel throughput.
This typically varied between 700~730 MBTU/BBL. The average US crude oil contains ~5,800 MBTU/BBL.
But the previous poster talked about oil losses, not energy losses. When measured by volume, a typical modern refinery actually creates more volume of products than the input of crude oil. This is due to the cracking of heavy hydrocarbons into lighter, less dense molecules.
It is very rare when a refinery will let escape anything they can sell or use. This is why flaring is used as an emergency measure and not a routine “waste stream disposal” as often was the case 50 years ago.
Any real data to back up your 1%?
“Unnerved Houston liberals” is probably what the author meant to say. :)
Thank you for this and the other information.
Although I suspect the answer is yes, I want to ask to confirm: Is the mass of sulfur removed from the oil accounted for in these studies? It would be very similar to the range of loss discussed.
Yes, sulfur is accounted for. It is not included in loss.
Thank you. The numbers looked close enough to range of sulfur content I wanted to rule it out.