28 February 2010

Flaring up at Pulau Bukom

During the TeamSeagass monitoring at Pulau Semakau yesterday, I noticed huge flares coming out of the Shell refinery at Pulau Bukom.
What is going on?

The flares are quite huge. See the people on the seagrass meadows for scale.
According to the Shell website, this is part of commissioning work to start up their ethylene cracker complex.
During final preparations for start-up, flames will be visible at the top of the petrochemical plant’s chimneys. These are commonly referred to in the industry as “flares” and are a safe and routine part of commissioning a new unit, such as a cracker. The flares are likely to be seen from the last few days of February to early-March.

Simon Lam, Venture Director of SEPC, explains: “Flares at refineries and chemical plants are a normal and vital part of keeping facilities running safely during start-up, unplanned operational interruptions or scheduled maintenance activities. Members of the public need not be concerned as carbon dioxide, water, and occasionally some soot are almost the only substances produced. They are not hazardous. Shell takes flares seriously and aggressively manages them at our sites, aiming for zero routine flaring.”

Shell strives to run its plants in an environmentally responsible way, safeguarding its staff as well as neighbouring communities. Flaring acts as a ‘safety relief valve’ to safeguard the facilities.

In Singapore, all flaring is subject to regulatory limits. Shell abides by these as well as the government’s strict regulations on emissions and limits on density and duration of allowable smoke.

About Flaring

When refining/petrochemical operations experience interruptions (e.g. unplanned power outage), the materials in the facilities sometimes cannot be retained for further processing. For safety reasons, these materials need to be channelled to the flare system and burnt. The flare is designed to ensure maximum combustion while minimising unburnt hydrocarbon emissions into the air.

The use of flaring for safe disposal of hydrocarbons that cannot be processed during commissioning and start-up of a unit is widely recognised in the industry as the preferred approach to adopt to avoid hazardous over-pressurisation of equipment.

What is gas flaring?
From Wikipedia, flaring is done to burn off gas produced in oil and gas wells, refineries, chemical plants, natural gas processing plants. This is done to relieve pressure from building up in the equipment. Flaring is also done on landfills to burn off methane gas produced from decomposition of organic materials.

What are some of the enviromental impacts on flaring?
Here's some comments made about flaring:

"The gas that is being flared releases a lot of toxic chemicals, including benzene -- chemicals that cause cancer, asthma, bronchitis and skin diseases. The sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide in the gas also lead to acid rain. We are talking about an enormous amount of gas-greenhouse gas being released."
Environmental Group Seeks End to Gas Flaring in Nigeria on Voice of America 14 Jan 09;

Flaring "sends huge volumes of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere, while sulphur dioxide emissions come back to the Delta as acid rain. Inhabitants of the region complain of health problems - mainly respiratory - as well as damage to wildlife, homes and vegetation."
NIGERIA: Focus on the environmental impact of gas flaring on Medilinks 21 Jan 01

"Regulation of emissions from plant flares in Texas is based on flare efficiency studies conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the early 1980’s, which concluded that flare combustion efficiencies of 98 or 99 percent are achieved when critical operating variables are controlled appropriately.

However, recent studies suggest that, even when well-controlled, flares may operate with efficiencies appreciably lower than 98 percent due to crosswinds and other factors. Lower than assumed flare combustion efficiencies, particularly during emission events, could account for a significant portion of previously unrecognized emissions from refineries and chemical plants and help to explain Houston’s high ozone levels."
Reducing Emissions From Plant Flares Robert E. Levy, Lucy Randel, Meg Healy and Don Weaver Paper #61 – Revised April 24, 2006 on Industry Professionals for Clean Air

New refinery complex built on reclaimed reef
The new ethylene cracker complex is built on reclaimed land which buried the living reefs of Terumbu Bayan.

Flaring and emissions at our Southern Islands
Here's a flaring observed at Pulau Bukom in Mar 09, seen from Pulau Semakau.
Petrochemical plants on Pulau Bukom
A big 'cloud' over Pulau Bukom seen in Mar 08.
Global waming in action
'Clouds' streaming from Pulau Bukom seen in Mar 09.
Petrochemical plants on Pulau Bukom
A layer of haze over the petrochemical industries of Jurong Island seen from Sentosa on a clear blue day in Jun 07
Haze over the mainland

What natural shores are near Pulau Bukom?
Lying just opposite Pulau Bukom are the amazing wild reefs of Pulau Hantu. Volunteers of the Hantu blog conduct regular dives at this reef.
Pulau Bukom lies just off the rich reefs of Pulau Hantu

On the other side of Pulau Bukom are the stunning wild reefs and seagrass meadows of Cyrene Reef.
Living reefs of Cyrene facing Pulau Bukom

Not far, is Pulau Semakau with vast seagrass meadows, reefs and mangroves.
Pulau Bukom off Pulau Semakau's mangroves
TeamSeagrass monitors the seagrasses at Pulau Semakau.
Pulau Bukom off Pulau Semakau's seagrass meadows

The living submerged reef of Terumbu Raya also lies nearby.
Terumbu Raya overlooking Pulau Hantu and Pulau Bukom

Another large living submerged reef, Terumbu Bemban Besar is also in the area.
Pulau Bukom from Beting Bemban Besar

The living reefs of Pulau Jong also lie near Pulau Bukom.
Pulau Hantu and Pulau Bukom from Pulau Jong

On the mainland, Pulau Bukom can be seen from Labrador's rocky shores, reefs and seagrass meadows.
Pulau Bukom from Labrador


Other posts of the recent flaring

Other posts about petrochemicals and our Southern Islands
More background on reclamation for the Shell petrochemical cracker complex:

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