Combating Fugitive Emissions
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Combating Fugitive Emissions

Jul 17, 2023

The world is moving toward more sustainable practices as new rules and regulations place a heightened awareness on preserving our environment for future generations. For those in the oil and gas and chemical industries, there isn’t a straightforward solution to more ecofriendly operations.

This is due to the presence of “fugitive emissions,” which are leaks and the irregular release of gases and vapors from pressurized containment. While small leaks are common, if left unresolved, these emissions pose a real threat to the environment and public health.

As a result, refineries and chemical plants must prioritize new ways to reduce such emissions, starting with an understanding of their negative impact, current challenges facing the industry, and what operators should be doing now.

A typical refinery or chemical plant has about 12,000 connectors across its piping systems responsible for limiting the release of fugitive emissions. Yet, on average, these facilities release 600-700 tonnes of volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, and other gases each year due to leaking connections and components such as valves, flanges, and pumps.

The release of these greenhouse gases is at the crux of the ongoing climate crisis. Studies show temperatures around the globe are rising due to greenhouse gases trapping more heat in the atmosphere, which causes rising sea levels, droughts, and more severe weather events.

This has prompted a call to standardize and improve comprehensive detection processes. Under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, nations have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 7.6% (1 billion metric tons) per year to slow global temperature increase by 2o C.

The agreement, however, is at risk of falling short of its goal given that the ability to detect a leak’s exact origin—and prevent future emission leaks from occurring is challenging. All too often, plants are not alerted to an issue unless there is a clear indicator, such as a loud whistling sound.

Moreover, currently there is no international testing standard for measuring fugitive emissions on pipe connections. This lack of standardization has made it so companies can calculate fugitive emissions their own way. In many cases, reported fugitive emissions are based on a sampling of connectors in a pipe system instead of evaluating the thousands of connectors individually.

However, the industry is now taking steps toward greater control and reporting of fugitive emissions. Taxations based on the volume of emissions are being considered, and innovative technologies are emerging to better enable detection and improvement processes.

One such solution is a pressure energized seal. An alternative to crushed gasket seals, pressure energized solutions have been shown to reduce emissions by as much as 99% compared to industry standard crushed gaskets.

When evaluating modern technologies, decision makers should be prepared to integrate design engineers with environmental, social, and governance teams. This will help enable a design that will meet the needs of the plant, while having the ability to adapt to future environmental rules.

Operators should ask suppliers about the predicted level of fugitive emissions from connections and new sealing technologies. If they can’t provide an answer, it’s a red flag.

Look for solutions that can be installed on current piping. The cost to replace entire systems—or even existing end connections—is significant. Instead, operators should seek retrofitting solutions to the existing infrastructure.

By following these steps, companies will be better suited to navigate new standards, demonstrating that they are a committed partner in the energy transition movement.

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Jason Kollatschny