Flares from oil & gas wells seen from space - Tucson News Now

Flares from oil & gas wells seen from space

Source: NASA Earth Observatory Source: NASA Earth Observatory

Portions of this story are from NASA Earth Observatory.

Oil and gas production is visible at night from space.  The below images were captured over the Bay of Campeche (Gulf of Mexico area) and just onshore in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.  Check out the images below taken by two different NASA satellites. 

The first image was taken on September 13, 2009 by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA's Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite.  NASA Earth Observatory says it's "a natural-color image of gas flares and an oil slick in the Bay of Campeche (top). Sunglint—sunlight reflecting off the ocean surface and back to the satellite—gives the ocean a silver-gray appearance and also illuminates the oil slick, which smoothes the ocean surface."

For more information on oil slicks and sunglint, see Gulf of Mexico Oil Slick Images: Frequently Asked Questions.

Gas Flares in Bahía de Campeche acquired September 13, 2009 download large image (4 MB, JPEG, 4567x4341)

The below image was taken on July 26, 2012 by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi-NPP satellite.  It's a nighttime image showing the oil and gas production flares onshore and offshore, along with the onshore city lights.  NASA Earth Observatory says "gas flares appear as extremely bright central spots, surrounded by a circular halo. Electric lights in cities and oil production sites vary in brightness, and do not have a halo."

Gas Flares in Bahía de Campeche acquired July 26, 2012 download large image (702 KB, JPEG, 2000x2000)

Below NASA Earth Observatory gives some background information relating to the images.

Crude oil often contains natural gas. When buried deep underground, the natural gas stays dissolved in the oil due to high pressure. But as the oil nears the surface and pressure decreases, flammable gas (mostly methane) bubbles out. Many oilrig operators try to preserve the gas for use by customers, but depending on the situation, some operators may instead choose to burn it. Sometimes the gas is burned because it is contaminated with mud or other substances. In other cases, there may be no other way to quickly and safely dispose of it.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas—roughly 23 times as powerful as carbon dioxide. When pure methane is burned completely, the combustion process creates carbon dioxide and water. Unfortunately, gas flares in oil drilling operations rarely burn all of the methane, so some is released into the atmosphere. Because unprocessed natural gas often contains other substances besides methane, flares at oilrigs can produce other compounds such as carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide.

On June 16, 2012, the Global Gas Flaring Reduction (GGFR) public-private partnership released estimates of flared volumes of natural gas in oil operations for 2007 through 2011, based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite data. In 2011, Mexico flared an estimated 2.1 billion cubic meters (bcm), down from the previous year's estimate of 2.8 bcm. Mexico ranked 15th on the list of the top-20 flaring countries, behind Russia, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, the United States, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Angola, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, China, Canada, Libya, and Indonesia.

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