One example of a more efficient and environmentally friendly upgrade is vapor recovery equipment, which captures methane released from oil as it waits in storage tanks before being transported to a refinery.
Without it, the methane typically is vented out of the storage tanks to avoid pressure buildup.
The vapor recovery equipment attaches to the tanks, where it collects the associated methane and pumps it into a pipeline for processing and delivery.
While the technology has been available for decades, it has gained widespread use within the past five years, said Tyson Curtis, vice president of operations at Oklahoma City-based Flogistix, which manufactures and sells vapor recovery equipment.
“The process eliminates a lot of safety concerns on location where you have raw natural gas present. It eliminates that issue by keeping it contained and in the pipeline,” Curtis said. “It also has an economic advantage because instead of emitting or flaring the gas, the producers are able to sell it just like they would gas from a standard well.”
The EPA last fall tightened its emissions regulations, slashing the amount of allowable emissions to 6 tons per facility, down from 40 tons previously.
Curtis said the producers have benefited from the regulations because proceeds from the additional natural gas they collect and sell can pay for the equipment and generate a profit.
“This is one of the few cases where the environmental regulation is economically beneficial,” he said. “Originally the regulation drove demand for the product. But once installed, the economics took over and producers were able to see it is an economic advantage to install the system in most cases.”