Monday, September 25

EXPLAINER: What is ‘flaring’ at chemical plants?

BAYTOWN, Texas – Flaring and heavy smoke could be seen for miles billowing into the air, sparked by a power outage at the Chevron Phillips Chemical Company in Baytown Tuesday morning, company officials said.

The incident happened at the plant located at 9500 Interstate 10 East.

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

“Our Baytown facility 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 posted if the condition changes. An All Clear message will be posted when the event is over.”



‘Unplanned operational issue’ prompts flaring at Chevron Phillips Baytown facility, officials say

PHOTOS: Aerial images of Baytown after flaring at Chevron Phillips facility

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

1. For starters, what exactly is the pole with a flame we often see at industrial sites?

The tall, thin structure with flames or steam coming out of the top is called a flare stack. It’s a gas combustion device used at industrial sites to burn off waste or other unwanted gases.


2. So why is the flare stack producing fire?

A flare stack produces a fire as part of controlled burning taking place for a few typical reasons:  1) as part of testing to stabilize pressure and flow from a well 2) managing waste gas that can’t be captured or processed 3) for safety or emergency situations to release pressure. Flare stacks are mostly found in refineries, chemical and petrochemical plants, natural-gas processing plants, offshore exploration platforms, well heads and landfills.

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3. Does flaring release carbon emissions?

The flare stack’s main purpose is to combust vent gas—a large portion 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 burnt, it will be released into the atmosphere as-is, and it is invisible or looks like steam (for downstream flares).


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 that flame is so important. Operators need to have flare stacks optimized for combustion efficiency, so as much methane as possible is burned, converting it into carbon dioxide and minimizing a facility’s long-term carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.

4. What are some common misconceptions about flaring?

First of all, people see fire and automatically think it’s dangerous. But the reality is, if someone sees a flare stack venting methane masked with steam, that’s far worse. The bigger and brighter the flame coming out of a flare stack, the less of an impact that facility is having on the environment, from a carbon-emissions standpoint.

5. How can oil and gas companies continue to flare if they want to reduce emissions?


Companies can reduce routine flaring by finding uses for the gas, instead of burning it. Capturing this gas gives operators and opportunity to produce more energy.  However, technology today also allows operators to monitor and measure combustion efficiency in real-time – meaning they can reduce the amount of carbon emissions released by flares. With flare optimization solutions available today, facilities can now operate at 96-percent efficiency or higher. This improvement can cut up to 12,100 metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions per flare annually.

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You can find additional information about flare optimization solutions here.

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