Flare emissions are a significant global issue. Satellite data suggest that worldwide flared volumes exceed 140 billion cubic metres annually, and much of this volume is associated with development of unconventional oil and gas resources. In addition to being an important source of climate-forcing carbon dioxide emissions, flaring is implicated as a critical source of black carbon and other toxic air pollutants. In Canada, flaring has risen sharply in recent years as a direct result of rapid expansion in hydraulic fracturing techniques in oil and gas developments.
Data and models to accurately predict flare emissions are critically lacking. As a result, the relevance of emission factors currently relied upon to calculate pollution levels and guide regulation is questionable.
The NSERC FlareNet Strategic Network integrates leading Canadian researchers and various industry partners to meet the network’s research challenges through innovative, collaborative and large-scale experiments that will significantly advance the field, directly affecting policy and regulation in Canada and internationally.
Led by Professor Matthew Johnson at Carleton University, FlareNet unites five prominent universities, National Research Council Canada and a wide variety of national and international partners, including the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Alberta Energy Regulator, the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership, the United Nations–led Climate and Clean Air Coalition, Clearstone Engineering Ltd., Telops Ltd., CSA Group, Carbon Limits and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
The main objective of the NSERC FlareNet Strategic Network is to provide an evidence-based understanding of flare-generated emissions critical to enabling science-based regulations and accurate pollutant inventories, to understanding climate forcing and health implications, and to engineering mitigation strategies to minimize environmental impacts in the energy sector. This will not only make Canada a global innovator in the field, but will also allow for greater sustainability of Canadian natural resources.
The energy sector of the Canadian economy has a number of wide-ranging environmental impacts, which are often poorly quantified and difficult to regulate. As global consumption of fossil fuels continues to rise, outpacing the increase in renewable energy consumption on an absolute unit of energy basis, any immediate actions to improve air quality and reduce climate change impacts must begin with scientific and regulatory solutions. Carbon trading for significant sources such as flares will have limited impact without the ability to accurately quantify emissions, especially the enhanced climate forcing impacts associated with emitted methane and black carbon. This issue has added importance in Canada, since global flaring is the dominant source of black carbon deposition on snow and ice in the Arctic, contributing directly to accelerated warming relative to the rest of the planet, and leading to a range of acute social impacts to First Nations communities.
NSERC’s FlareNet will directly address these critical issues by empowering policy decision makers and regulators with the evidence-based knowledge and innovate models required for effective, science-based regulations. The network will help industry partners improve their operating procedures to better impact environmental performance. Environment scientists, engineers, and climate researchers will gain new data on climate forcing and emissions. This will allow for the development of new and novel techniques and strategies. This can impact the global energy sector and lead to international organizations improving their procedures to benefit the global environment.
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