Natural Gas and Green Completion in a Nut Shell

Green completion may be a foreign term for some people but it’s real and is one more demonstration of how technology is always one step ahead of the natural gas opposition.

Green completions are now becoming standard in the natural gas industry, eliminating one of the latest objections of natural gas opponents who like to say the industry is venting too much methane into the air and contributing to global warming (when it’s actually doing the exact opposite by lowering carbon emissions).  When a natural gas well is developed, there is an excess of natural gas which, in the past, was released into the air or flared (burned off) but now companies are moving toward capturing the natural gas at the well head instead of releasing it.

Let’s take a closer look at green completions and how the process is regulated because a new report suggests this technique is already having a major impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What is a green completion?

The Clean Air Act authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate certain aspects of natural gas development.  It adopted a rule in April of this year, that, by it’s own description, “generally requires owners/operators to use reduced emissions completions, also known as “RECs” or “green completions,” to reduce VOC emissions from well completions. To achieve these VOC reductions, owners and/or operators may use RECs or completion combustion devices, such as flaring, until January 1, 2015; as of January 1, 2015, owners and/or operators must use RECs and a completion combustion device.”

Green completion essentially requires natural gas companies to capture the gas at the well head immediately after well completion instead of releasing it into the atmosphere or flaring it off.  Here’s how Environmentally Friendly Drilling Systems (EFD), a service company to the industry, describes them:

Green completions are systems to reduce methane losses during well completions. After a new well completion or workover, the well bore and formation must be cleaned of debris and fracture fluid. Conventional methods for doing this include producing the well into an open pit or tank to collect sand, cuttings and reservoir fluids for disposal. Typically, the natural gas that is produced is vented or flared. The large volume of natural gas that is lost may not only affect regional air quality, it might also affect the profitability of drilling operations.

Green completion systems present a significant opportunity for cost savings. By using portable equipment to process gas and condensate, the recovered gas can be directed to a pipeline and sold. These truck or trailer mounted systems can typically recover more than half of the total gas produced and industry results have shown that investment in portable three phase separators, sand traps and tanks can be recovered in 2 years or less.

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Example of Green Completion Equipment (FracmasterUSA)

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Combined with the shift to closed-loop systems that eliminate the need for open pits, this development means both air emissions and flowback water are being recaptured and reused with both economic and environmental benefits; the classic “win-win.”  Here’s a concise technical definition:

In green completions, gas and hydrocarbon liquids are physically separated from other fluids and delivered directly into equipment that holds or transports the hydrocarbons for productive use. There is no venting or flaring. This practice then links upstream activities with mid and downstream efforts.

Flaring of course, is a process of burning excess natural gas instead of just releasing it to the environment.  Not commonly understood is the fact flaring of natural gas actually puts more water into the hydrologic cycle than not burning it, because one of the two byproducts of methane is water.  Nonetheless, gas companies are in the business of selling the product, so capturing it for sale makes even more sense.

What are the expected impacts of green completions?

The EPA has, as noted above, established the standards for green completions, and here is their expectation, as reported by the The State Journal (West Virginia).

The EPA’s New Source Performance Standards and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants will improve air quality and reduce health risks.

“The action taken today is expected to yield nearly a 95 percent reduction in smog-forming volatile organic compounds emitted from more than 13,000 hydraulically fractured gas wells each year,” said EPA Office of Air and Radiation Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Under the rule, operations are required to use “reduced emissions” or “green well completion” equipment to capture gas and condensate that comes up with hydraulic fracturing flowback, preventing their release into the air and making the valuable hydrocarbons available to the producer for sale.

And, this is what EPA says:

To ensure that smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are controlled without slowing natural gas production, EPA’s final NSPS for VOCs establishes two phases for reducing VOCs during well completion. This approach will provide industry time to order and manufacture enough equipment to capture natural gas using a process called green completions, also known as “reduced emissions completions.

They go on to describe the other stages as well.

Phase 1:  In the first phase (before Jan. 1, 2015), industry must reduce VOC emissions either by flaring using completion combustion device or by capturing the gas using green completions with a completion combustion device (unless combustion is a safety hazard or is prohibited by state or local regulations).

A completion combustion device burns off the gas that would otherwise escape during the well-completion period (combustion generally would occur through pit flaring). Industry may use completion combustion devices to reduce VOC emissions until Jan. 1, 2015, unless state or local requirements prohibit the practice or require more stringent controls. EPA encourages industry to begin using green completions during this time.

Phase 2:  Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, operators must capture the gas and make it available for use or sale, which they can do through the use of green completions.

–  EPA estimates that use of green completions for the three- to 10-day flowback period reduces VOC emissions from completions and recompletions of hydraulically fractured wells by 95 percent at each well.

–  Both combustion and green completions will reduce the VOCs that currently escape into the air during well completion. However, capturing the gas through a green completion prevents a valuable resource from going to waste and does not generate NOx, which is a byproduct of combustion.

Interestingly, a study has just been released by MIT that indicates “The use of flaring and reduced emission completions reduce the levels of actual fugitive emissions from shale well completion operations to about 216 Gg CH4, or 50 Mg CH4 per well, a release substantially lower than several widely quoted estimates.”   It looks like the Howarth study just took yet another hit.

Are green completions something new?  Not exactly.

Some companies have been doing green completions for almost a decade.  One example is Devon Energy Corporation and here’s what they have to say:

Green completions have been Devon’s standard practice in the Barnett Shale since 2004. The company uses the same process to complete wells in New Mexico, Wyoming, Oklahoma and south Texas. Using this process, Devon has reduced methane emissions by more than 15 billion cubic feet in the Barnett Shale area of north Texas. Not long ago, green completions were so uncommon that Devon had to look as far as Wyoming to rent the necessary filtering equipment. Now, more than 2,000 green completions later, that rental equipment is available readily and locally.

Devon’s green completions practice stems from their voluntary participation in the EPA’s Natural Gas STAR Program. The procedure generally is not required in the Barnett Shale except in the city of Fort Worth and at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. The vast majority of Devon’s Barnett Shale wells are outside those locales.

EFD reports, based on input from Devon, that “the rental cost for the equipment is roughly $1,000 per day and can save an average of 11,900 Mcf of natural gas per well from being vented into the atmosphere.  In their case, the conservative net value of gas saved was $50,000 per well.”

Green completions are yet another demonstration of technology advancing faster than natural gas opponents, who are always debating yesterday’s issues.  They’re still talking flaring and open pits, while the industry has moved well beyond both.  It just keeps getting better, while our friends on the other side only see doom and gloom because they’re focused on the past and refuse to see the future.

Comments

  1. Dean Marshall says:

    No Rachael……Nat Gas Producers have always…ALWAYS been several steps behind when it comes to adopting newer, safer, and less polluting practices. Open Pits, dumping of Toxic Waste water into our Rivers, Flareing off the Highly polluted Flowback Chems from newly Fracked Wells, and dozens of other careless procedures were and are continued until Regulators and Environmental advocates insist on improvements! This is not “HYPE” but historically documented Fact! 2015? Okay……why not STOP flareing (Billions of CF of gas saved by DEVON alone???) right now? Why wait until Billions or Trillions of CF are wasted and released to poison our atmosphere? Why???? Because it would cost the industry $$$$$! Yes…we all expect…no, Demand that all industries do what is right for our health…….few of them Do until they are forced. Your statements would be laughable if it were not for the consequences of a run-away industry that buys away serious regulation and pays lip service to the rest! This comment will be copied for Public consumption and consideration wether you print it or not.

    • Tom Shepstone says:

      I just love how you folks always threaten to publish with comments such as “This comment will be copied for Public consumption and consideration wether you print it or not.” As if we didn’t publish virtually everything you write, Dean. Also, you’re wrong about who’s ahead and who’s behind. You’re still talking the last set of issues and everything has moved beyond you. Finally, why not ry some reasoned arguments instead of all the digital yelling?

    • Dave says:

      Dean,
      Apparently you are more knowledgeable than two MIT professors who are actually in the field:

      http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/044030

      Facts are necessary, leave the rhetoric at the front door.

      Respectfully,
      Dave

      • JD says:

        Dave,
        I realize that my response may be a few years over due, but if there is a chance that you will check this i would like to thank you for posting the link to the Environmental Research Letter. I am currently a college student doing massive amounts of research on this subject and I always appreciate direct links for scientific journals, letters, and reports.
        Regards,
        JD, A sleep deprived college student

  2. Dean Marshall says:

    No threat Tom. Just insurance after being censored in the past.

    I believe my reasoned argument speaks for itself…. And your reply , as usual , is a non- reply to the statements we make. I just hope they never replace you with someone who displays credibility as that would actually make our work harder.

    • Tom Shepstone says:

      Thank you for that non-reply.

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  4. Dean Marshall says:

    Dean Marshall PERMALINK
    November 27, 2012
    Please Note: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    No threat Tom. Just insurance after being censored in the past.
    I believe my reasoned argument speaks for itself…. And your reply , as usual , is a non- reply to the statements we make. I just hope they never replace you with someone who displays credibility as that would actually make our work harder.
    REPLY

    8 hours ago via mobile · Like

  5. Scott says:

    Thanks for bringing up this important topic Rachael. Actually reduced emissions completions (REC) have been with us for at least a decade and have been extensively used in the industry for many years before the EPA even addressed the issue. REC can and has been used whenever a pipeline to the well pad is already in place. With multiwall pads, the standard with unconventional gas development, the pipeline is installed as soon as the first well is deemed viable. Thus all subsequent wells can be completed directly into the pipeline servicing the pad thus offering substantial emissions advantages over conventional vertical well drilling which requires a separate pipeline to each pad and a completion before deciding to install the line. Shale gas wells with multi-well pads with horizontal wells are perfect examples of where the technology is being successfully employed. This is a fact overlooked by some individuals that are inexperienced in oil and gas exploration who thus fail to recognize this reduced emissions profile and therefore severely overestimate methane leakage during completion operations.

  6. Victoria Switzer says:

    Where are these green completions taking place??

  7. James Barth says:

    I commented in an EID blog written by Uni Blake about this very topic, asking Uni Blake to support her “already in place” best practices that she wrote were “protecting” the health of residents in drilling areas. If I remember correctly, I asked her how many of the wells drilled in the Marcellus, over the past seven years, had been done using best practices, and how many are now using best practices. Of course, there was no response.

    Andy Maykuth wrote an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer a few days ago, and if Tom is referring to it above, I can’t imagine why, since it utterly supports my, Victoria’s, and Dean’s position.

    Industry has been steadfastly denying there ever were problems, then EID tries to portray that not only have the problems been solved, but that they are in place across the board, and have been. Maykuth’s article points to about 4 or 5 rigs that are using LNG, instead of 80 gallon an hour diesel, to power the rigs. Best practices are barely scratching the surface at this point, eight years, and about 4,000 shale gas wells drilled in the Marcellus, too late.

    The point is, industry always has to be dragged kicking and screaming out of its position of denial. They are a decade behind the curve on green completions, resist it completely, and no amount of “greenwashing” by Tom or Rachel, will change that reality. EID’s view only adds insult to injury.

    Certainly, Victoria Switzer knows this, because she has been living in the area, where zero (?) green completions were performed, in the open air, several hundred feet from their homes.

    This shale gas extraction industry should never have been allowed into Pennsylvania, while it utilized “worst practices”, and PA’s regs were woefully inadequate, and PADEP’s staffing was thoroughly unprepared.

    • Tom Shepstone says:

      Devon has been doing it for a decade, Jim. Range is doing it. EQT is doing it. Others are coming on line rapidly and all you can do is complain while your allies continue to spin tall tales about methane emissions, open pits, etc. etc., always complaining about yesterday’s issues.

      • Victoria Switzer says:

        I cannot speak to yesterday’s issues but I can speak to today and today it is roaring outside and has been for many nights now. I applaud green completions and beg for them. I am not screaming ban natural gas extraction I only want to see the technology “best practices” and “better practices” used…today. Sincerely, Victoria Switzer

        • Bob says:

          Victoria

          Who are the operators and what wells specifically are “roaring” as you say. Are they flaring gas?

        • Victor Furman says:

          Victoria – nice to hear from you

  8. Victoria Switzer says:

    I reread the article-looks like 2015 before flaring is eliminated. That will be 7 years of drilling and flaring. I was told today by a gas industry “receptionist” to be patient. Guess I will have to be. Thank you Victor, hope you are well.

  9. Victoria,

    Right now the issue is that there are not enough actual “green completion” setups available. That’s why the EPA allowed the rules to wait until 2014, to allow for more of them to be built. These aren’t things that you can just swing by and pick up at the local Wal-Mart. Companies save money by using them. They are snapping them up as quickly as they are build and employing them.

  10. John Donaghy says:

    Firstly, thanks for clarifying in this article what a green completion is. You have left one comment however that is highly inaccurate in terms of gaseous contributions to global warming: “…natural gas opponents who like to say the industry is venting too much methane into the air and contributing to global warming (when it’s actually doing the exact opposite by lowering carbon emissions)”. Methane, when compared pound to pound with carbon dioxide traps about 21 times as much heat, and therefore is 21 times more potent in terms of its contribution to the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide emissions are the focus of government and media speculation simply because there is more CO2 emissions that those of methane, and hence, overall, the majority of global warming is attributed to CO2. Oil companies have vented natural gas to flares in order to convert it into CO2 for this very reason. I hope that people see this comment and avoid misinformation.

Trackbacks

  1. […] To understand why, you first need to know what ‘green’ completions are, and this handy description from Energy In Depth explains that very well: http://energyindepth.org/marcellus/natural-gas-and-green-completion-in-a-nut-shell/ […]

  2. […] along with others such as industry front group Energy in Depth and the Environmental Defense Fund, believe “green completions” of wells during the fracking […]

  3. […] along with others such as industry front group Energy in Depth and theEnvironmental Defense Fund, believe “green completions” of wells during the fracking […]

  4. […] along with others such as industry front group Energy in Depth and the Environmental Defense Fund, believe “green completions” of wells during the fracking […]

  5. […] along with others such as industry front group Energy in Depth and the Environmental Defense Fund, believe “green completions” of wells during the fracking […]

  6. […] podobnie jak  organizacje promujące wydobycie niekonwencjonalnych paliw kopalnych, takie jak Energy In Depth i Environmental Defense Fund wierzy, że “zielone spalanie” podczas procesu […]

  7. […] podobnie jak organizacje promujące wydobycie niekonwencjonalnych paliw kopalnych, takie jak Energy In Depth i Environmental Defense Fund wierzy, że “zielone spalanie” podczas procesu szczelinowania […]

  8. […] in fracking for it to go away anytime soon. She instead focused on two points. Her first was that green completion technology (capturing the methane and organic compounds normally burned off or released into the […]

  9. […] Andy Hall for the Observer The most important regulation needed, said Lord Smith, was “green completion”, which ensures that methane – a potent greenhouse gas – does not escape from drilling wells. […]

  10. […] most important regulation needed, said Lord Smith, was “green completion”, which ensures that methane – a potent greenhouse gas – does not escape from drilling wells. […]

  11. […] most important regulation needed, said Lord Smith, was “green completion”, which ensures that methane – a potent greenhouse gas – does not escape from […]

  12. […] most important regulation needed, said Lord Smith, was “green completion”, which ensures that methane – a potent greenhouse gas – does not escape from […]

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