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ExxonMobil flares 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas in start-up

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 January 2020, 5:26 by Denis Chabrol

ExxonMobil’s Country Manager, Rod Henson (left) and Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Vincent Adams.

ExxonMobil has so far flared more than 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas since beginning commercial oil production on December 20, 2019 offshore Guyana, something at which this South American country’s environmental watchdog initially expressed surprise.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Executive Director, Dr. Vincent Adams, asked to confirm what oil industry stakeholders have told News-Talk Radio Guyana 103.1 FM/Demerara Waves Online News, said usually there should be no flaring of gas except in cases of emergency or start-up operations. “It’s necessary right now for testing out the equipment for start-up even though we were not expecting it to be for this long a period but it’s something that we now have knowledge of that before you start injecting, the equipment has to be working under the conditions that presently exist to ensure they can operate safely,” Adams said.

Adams said in meetings with the EPA and the Ministry of the Presidency’s Department of Energy, ExxonMobil said it was flaring 50 million cubic feet of natural gas per day as part of its start-up of oil production on December 20, 2019. The EPA Chief said the company informed Guyana government stakeholders that flaring is expected to last 60 days — until February 18, 2020. By then at least 3 billion cubic feet of gas is expected to be flared.

Some amount of natural gas is formed with oil underground. During the oil extraction process, flaring is used as a controlled method to burn off the natural gas, especially if it cannot be used and to reduce environmental risks. However, gas flaring, itself, has come under increased scrutiny in recent years.

ExxonMobil did not respond to a specific question from Demerara Waves Online News about how many cubic feet of gas is being flared daily, but sought to assure that flaring is necessary.

“The design for our operations in Guyana does not utilize routine flaring. Liza Phase 1 first oil start-up operations involves temporary flaring to fully commission the gas compression and injection systems for safe operations as outlined in the approved environmental impact assessment and permit. This non-routine activity is operationally necessary, standard in the industry and consistent with Guyanese laws.

Following a start-up period, flaring will only take place during critical maintenance or as a safety precaution,” Public and Government Affairs Officer, Janelle Persaud told News-Talk Radio Guyana 103.1 FM.

Adams said every effort would be made to minimise the extent of future flaring. Adams acknowledged that the EPA and Department of Energy did not initially expect so much gas would have been flared. “That was not our understanding, but now after investigation we now understand what this start-up operation entails but it was not what we expected. We expected it to be a much shorter period of time for the flaring,” he said.

The environmental agency said after two rounds of talks, the EPA and DOE determined that the flaring was necessary but Adams said in future, better planning would be needed to ensure that the period is shortened as much as possible.

The Head of the Department of Energy, Dr. Mark Bynoe referred queries to the EPA and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission.