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    FLARING

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Understanding Flaring

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Occasionally flares from Utah's refineries are visible to the public. Refineries have worked diligently over the past few years to eliminate or greatly reduce the amount of flaring that takes place. Some refineries have invested significant capital into technologies to capture and productively use those excess gases that previously had been sent to the flare, reducing emissions and returning valuable assets into a productive use. Occasionally, however, flares are necessary to reduce pressure within a refinery as a safety precaution oftentimes as a result of an unexpected upset in the refinery, such as a power bump our outage.

What are flares?
Flares are important safety devices used in refineries and petrochemical facilities. They safely burn excess hydrocarbon gases which cannot be recovered or recycled. Excess hydrocarbon gases are burnt in the flare systems in an environmentally-sound manner, as an alternative to releasing the vapor directly into the atmosphere.

During flaring, excess gases are combined with steam and/or air and burnt off in the flare system to produce water vapor and carbon dioxide. The process of burning these excess gases is similar to the burning of liquefied petroleum gases (LPG), which some of us use as fuel for home cooking.

The use of flares is minimized to the extent that is possible. However, flaring can occur during a start-up and shut-down of any of our facilities for maintenance, and also during unplanned operational interruptions such as power outages.

When there is flaring at a refinery, established guidelines are followed to promptly inform neighboring companies and appropriate governmental agencies such as the Utah Division of Air Quality.

Are flares safe?
Members of the public may become concerned when they see flaring and mistake them for fires when in reality they are a safely controlled and monitored method of reducing pressures and excess gases within a facility.

Sometimes, a white cloud may be observed around the flare. It is actually steam that is injected into the flare system to support clean combustion. While our refineries strive to achieve smokeless flaring, it may not always be possible during operational situations. On some occasions, there may be black smoke from the flare. The smoke, which is mainly made up of carbon particles, occurs when there is an insufficient amount of air to support complete combustion. This may happen when there is a sudden release of excess gases to the system with a delay in response before sufficient steam can be supplied to the burning process. Steam is usually added to the gases to increase turbulence in the gas flow. This increases air intake that helps to achieve complete combustion and smokeless flaring.

Utah’s refineries are committed to ensuring that our operations run safely and with minimal impact on the community and the environment. We strive to minimize flaring, keeping it to the times that it is necessary for the continued safe operation of our plants.

When you see flaring, please be assured that flares play a key role in keeping refineries running safely.
    • As of 2015, Utah ranks 11th nationally in oil production and 12th among states in natural gas production.
    • There are currently 141 operating refineries in the United States with 5 located in Utah. Utah refineries produced over 36 million barrels (1.5 billion gallons) of motor gasoline in 2015 and over 19 million barrels (798 million gallons) of distillate fuel (diesel).
    • Well completions in Utah (both oil and gas) have declined dramatically over recent years as commodity prices plummeted and have stayed low. There were 1243 completions in 2008, 925 in 2014 and only 305 in 2015.
    • Duchesne (46%), Uintah (34%) and San Juan (12%) Counties accounted for 92% of oil production in Utah in 2015. The balance was produced collectively from Sevier, Grand, Summit, Carbon and Emery Counties.
    • The ratio of oil wells drilled in Utah versus natural gas wells has shifted significantly over recent years as commodity prices have affected company's drilling programs. In 2008, only 28% of wells drilled were for oil while in 2014, 76% of all wells drilled were primarily seeking oil.
    • Wages for energy-related jobs are nearly double the average annual wage for all employment in Utah.
    • In 2015 petroleum products and natural gas accounted for 59% of total energy consumed in Utah. Coal was responsible for 38% while all renewables combined made up 3% of energy use.
    • Utah refineries received record amounts of crude oil in 2014 and only slightly less in 2015, with 43% coming from in-state and 8% coming from Canada.
    • Fossil fuels made up 98% of Utah’s total energy production in 2015, while renewable sources accounted for only 2% of Utah’s production portfolio.
    • Property taxes charged against Utah oil and gas activities have increased more than six times since 1996, totaling nearly $64 million in 2015.
    • The value of crude oil produced in Utah reached an all-time inflation-adjusted high of $3.2 billion in 2014, but then dropped to only $1.5 billion in 2015 as commodity prices sank.
    • Natural gas production in Utah reached a record high in 2012 of 491 billion cubic feet, but has since dropped to 423 billion cubic feet in 2015.
    • Oil and gas operations in Utah account for about 1.3% of the State's gross state product. Utilities (including some non-energy sectors), refineries, and pipeline transportation and maintenance account for an additional 1.9%.
    • The last major refinery built in the United States was put into operation in 1977.
    • Utah’s average price of residential natural gas in 2015 was $9.72 per thousand cubic feet, the 17th lowest in the nation. As recently as 2011, Utah’s price was the third lowest in the nation, but new natural gas pipelines have better connected our once captive market with the rest of the United States.
    • Natural gas is the largest source of annual energy production in Utah, surpassing coal for the first time in 2010.
    • In 2015, 76% of the electricity generated in Utah was from coal-burning power plants. Electricity generation from natural-gas power plants more than doubled since 2007, increasing its total share in 2015 to 19%.
    • Utah produced 18% more energy than it consumed in 2015, continuing its status as a net-energy exporter. This percentage is usually closer to 30%, but production of fossil fuels was significantly down in 2015.
    • Energy-related employment in Utah declined to 15,367 in September of 2015 (down 16% from the 18,236 recorded in October 2014 prior to the oil price crash), of which the majority (30%) came from the oil and gas sector.
    • Average yearly wages in the energy sector ($83,400, first three quarters of 2015) are more than double the statewide average annual wage ($41,500, first three quarters of 2015).

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