U.S. gas conversion projects double as flaring rises

Gas flaring.
Source: DollarPhotoClub

Planned projects to convert natural gas into fuels, intermediate chemicals and fertilizers have doubled in just 12 months, according to presentations from the Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) North America conference held last week in Houston.

Energy researcher Zeus Intelligence, a unit of Hart Energy, surveyed 24 gas-conversion projects in the U.S. and Canada in 2013. This year Zeus identified 47 projects. Four developed by Nucor, Oberon, Primus Energy and Celanese are already producing hot-briquetted iron, dimethyl ether, gasoline and methanol, respectively.

“Flaring is a symptom of a market ballooning with natural gas,” said Chris Cothran, lead gas-conversion analyst at Zeus Intelligence. “We’re seeing the benefits of cheap natural gas across many industries.”

“Effective June 1, North Dakota’s Industrial Commission changed its regulations,” he noted. Now oil producers must submit plans to capture gas when filing permits for new oil wells. Due to limited takeaway infrastructure, roughly 270 million cubic feet of associated gas is flared daily in North Dakota, mostly from oil wells in the Bakken shale. Regulators want producers to fund more pipelines and/or process plants to convert gas into marketable products.

Flares already in operation are attracting greater scrutiny, too. On July 1, North Dakota’s Industrial Commission is expected to announce new flaring rules. The state’s goal is to reduce flare gas from roughly 25 percent of total production to less than 10 percent by 2020.

“Gas-conversion technologists see an opportunity,” Cothran said. “Technologists are working to offer mobile solutions to convert gas at the well-head into liquid products that can be shipped to market.” He said at least four joint ventures have been announced in recent weeks.

“It will be interesting to see who wins this race,” Cothran remarked, suggesting it will be mobile plants, extended pipelines or a combination of the two.

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