In areas where there is active drilling, like northeast and southwest Pennsylvania, near the end of completing a gas well is a process called flaring—when some of the gas and other impurities are burned off. Sometimes flaring a well, which results in a large flame coming out of the well, can be seen up to 10 miles away, which catches neighbors by surprise. Tony Gaudlip from Range Resources explains the flaring process, and why it’s not used as much as it once was.
The flares are used at the end of the drilling and hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — stage, explained Tony Gaudlip, development manager and chemical engineer with Range Resources.
"What you’re doing is testing the well," Mr. Gaudlip said. "You just spent a couple million dollars drilling this well, you want to see what you’ve got."
Flares are used to slowly release pressure in the well before the production stage, Mr. Gaudlip said. Once a well is drilled, it expels fracking fluid and oil — which are then stored in tanks — and natural gas in the form of about 77 percent methane, along with secondary fuels such as propane, butane and ethane.
While a well is being flared — which typically takes three days — measurements are taken, along with temperature and other critical data.
When pipelines are nearby, flaring isn’t necessary because the gas is pumped directly into the pipeline, Mr. Gaudlip said. The oil is sold and the water is recycled and reused to frack other wells.
"We don’t flare every well anymore," Mr. Gaudlip said. "It’s kind of the exception to the rule."*
*Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Feb 2, 2012) – Flares from Marcellus Shale wells attracting plenty of attention