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Press Photo by April Baumgarten
A flare burns against an evening background Oct. 14, 2011, northeast of South Heart.
Press Photo by April Baumgarten A flare burns against an evening background Oct. 14, 2011, northeast of South Heart.

Can Internet solve flaring questions? Grand Forks-based research center creates website that connects flaring solutions, industry

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In the fight to reduce flaring, communication may be key.

So one center has made a webpage to connect companies with technologies that may help reduce flaring with industry. The Grand Forks-based Energy and Environmental Research Center created the site, which got a plug in an industry flaring task force’s presentation to the North Dakota Industrial Commission on Jan. 29.

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“We wanted to set up a database that would allow them to easily look at who’s offering which technologies so they can match their particular needs with what vendors are offering,” said Chad Wocken, senior research manager at the EERC.

The different types of remote capture vary from power production on site to natural gas liquids recovery. The companies are both new, looking to take advantage of the opportunity to prove what their technology can do, to companies using “off-the-shelf” technology to address the need, Wocken said.

About 29 percent of natural gas that comes up with oil is flared off in North Dakota oilfields because of gathering infrastructure that lags behind rapid oil production. Worsening the problem is that the gas is only worth about 20 percent of what the crude oil is, so producers aren’t as likely to put their money toward getting it.

The conditions add up to a golden business opportunity for the company that finds a way to capture the gas economically.

Nearly 40 companies were on the growing list as of Friday.

Infinia Technology Corp. has gotten a lot of calls from interested parties since being added to the site, said Peter Brehm, company president.

The company’s proposal, for technology under development, would enable the well-site processing of natural gas by separating out ethane and liquefying natural gas that can be used as a fuel for trucking and drilling/fracking operations in the Bakken.

The proposals vary in form. One, for example, is for a technology that would be part of a gas processing plant.

A Siluria Technologies proposal would use a catalytic process to turn the natural gas into ethylene and then gasoline — a cheaper and more scalable way than traditional gas-to-liquids technology.

Infinia is one collaborator with GTUIT, a service and technology company that can combine its gas processing technology with other liquefied natural gas, compressed natural gas or power generation technologies that require “conditioned gas” to operate, said Brian Cebull, president of the company.

While it’s not a technology that can be deployed at a remote flare, it can help the problem by making the gas more valuable in the end, said Rahul Iyer, senior director of corporate development for the company.

“It takes a lot of different types of solutions — infrastructure, technologies, best practices — to address this very complex situation,” he said, “and we think we have something that can be part of the solution but the reality is it’s a complicated situation on the ground.”

Iyer said Siluria added its information to the website to connect with other stakeholders.

“If we don’t build a consortium with all these different stakeholders … the likelihood of success is less,” he said.

“It’s really just about reaching out and starting to build the relationships.”

The EERC sent out a request for information in November that described the nature of Bakken gas and solicited help from vendors that may have technology to help.

That was to weed out any companies whose technology simply wouldn’t work in the Bakken, Wocken said. Some people have contacted the EERC but backed off after learning more about the quality and quantity of the gas, like its high natural gas liquids content.

The problem is a complex one that requires different types of solutions, Iyer said.

“Flare mitigation has been a challenge globally for a long time,” he said. “The Bakken isn’t the first time or the first place, and it won’t be the last place or the last time where dealing with flared gas is a really meaningful challenge.”

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