At the 10th anniversary of the Global Gas Flaring Reduction (GGFR) Partnership in London yesterday, the oil company Rosneft received an award for its Associated Gas Recovery Project on the Komsomolskoye oil field, located on the tundra in the heart of Russia over 3,000 kilometers east of Moscow. It’s gratifying to see that Rosneft is getting recognition for its hard work because this project is important not only in reducing flaring and greenhouse gas emissions, but also for the positive impact it is having on the local environment surrounding oil fields and for making better use of precious resources.
In 2002 six major oil companies joined the World Bank in creating the GGFR, a public-private partnership to encourage the reduction of flaring of natural gas associated with oil production. Methane escapes when oil is extracted (oil and associated gas, or APG) and it’s usually flared, converting it into carbon dioxide, because methane is 21 times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide is. But still, it’s a large source of emissions and the gas can instead be refined and used as natural gas.
As global demand for petroleum increases, oil production at the Komsomolskoye oil field is only expected to increase, and with it, flaring. But if you install an APG booster compression station you can treat (dehydrate) the gas, clean it up and use it as natural gas. The installation of the booster compression station is expensive but by doing so, you are protecting the environment. So in 2007, the World Bank, through its Carbon Finance Unit, and Rosneft started exploring the possibility of developing a Joint Implementation project under the Kyoto Protocol. The idea was that the project would lower its greenhouse gas emissions and thereby generate carbon credits.
From the beginning, Rosneft was very supportive of the project, despite investment costs of about US$60 million. In fact, the effects of climate change are pretty obvious to people at the site. A man, who had worked at the Komsomolskoye oil field for many years, told me that he could see the impact of a changing climate on the ground because he can now hear the chirping of small birds in the nearby forest during the summer. Twenty-five years earlier, the forest was silent since summer was shorter and too cold for birds to nest and have chicks.
Due to extreme weather conditions at the project site between November and March, outdoor construction stops. In spite of this and some technical and operational challenges, the project was implemented successfully. It now reduces flaring of 1.3 million cubic meters of APG annually, translating into a reduction of one million tons of carbon dioxide per year. It is also producing natural gas (which Rosneft sells to Gazprom), which decreases the need for natural gas production elsewhere. Perhaps more important for the people of Gubkinskiy nearby, it has also reduced emissions of soot, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and nitrogen oxide by an average of 72%. And because there is less flaring, there is now less thermal, light and noise pollution locally.
With five years of project preparation under its belt, the Rosneft team has significantly enhanced its internal capacity to implement similar projects elsewhere. They have started several similar projects at other oil fields across Russia, and best practice on gas flaring reduction is spreading within the biggest oil company in the world.