Appalachian Basin

Natural Gas and Green Completion in a Nut Shell

Green completion may be a foreign term for some people but it’s real and is one more demonstration of how technology is always one step ahead of the natural gas opposition.

Green completions are now becoming standard in the natural gas industry, eliminating one of the latest objections of natural gas opponents who like to say the industry is venting too much methane into the air and contributing to global warming (when it’s actually doing the exact opposite by lowering carbon emissions).  When a natural gas well is developed, there is an excess of natural gas which, in the past, was released into the air or flared (burned off) but now companies are moving toward capturing the natural gas at the well head instead of releasing it.

Let’s take a closer look at green completions and how the process is regulated because a new report suggests this technique is already having a major impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What is a green completion?

The Clean Air Act authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate certain aspects of natural gas development.  It adopted a rule in April of this year, that, by it’s own description, “generally requires owners/operators to use reduced emissions completions, also known as “RECs” or “green completions,” to reduce VOC emissions from well completions. To achieve these VOC reductions, owners and/or operators may use RECs or completion combustion devices, such as flaring, until January 1, 2015; as of January 1, 2015, owners and/or operators must use RECs and a completion combustion device.”

Green completion essentially requires natural gas companies to capture the gas at the well head immediately after well completion instead of releasing it into the atmosphere or flaring it off.  Here’s how Environmentally Friendly Drilling Systems (EFD), a service company to the industry, describes them:

Green completions are systems to reduce methane losses during well completions. After a new well completion or workover, the well bore and formation must be cleaned of debris and fracture fluid. Conventional methods for doing this include producing the well into an open pit or tank to collect sand, cuttings and reservoir fluids for disposal. Typically, the natural gas that is produced is vented or flared. The large volume of natural gas that is lost may not only affect regional air quality, it might also affect the profitability of drilling operations.

Green completion systems present a significant opportunity for cost savings. By using portable equipment to process gas and condensate, the recovered gas can be directed to a pipeline and sold. These truck or trailer mounted systems can typically recover more than half of the total gas produced and industry results have shown that investment in portable three phase separators, sand traps and tanks can be recovered in 2 years or less.


Example of Green Completion Equipment (FracmasterUSA)


Combined with the shift to closed-loop systems that eliminate the need for open pits, this development means both air emissions and flowback water are being recaptured and reused with both economic and environmental benefits; the classic “win-win.”  Here’s a concise technical definition:

In green completions, gas and hydrocarbon liquids are physically separated from other fluids and delivered directly into equipment that holds or transports the hydrocarbons for productive use. There is no venting or flaring. This practice then links upstream activities with mid and downstream efforts.

Flaring of course, is a process of burning excess natural gas instead of just releasing it to the environment.  Not commonly understood is the fact flaring of natural gas actually puts more water into the hydrologic cycle than not burning it, because one of the two byproducts of methane is water.  Nonetheless, gas companies are in the business of selling the product, so capturing it for sale makes even more sense.

What are the expected impacts of green completions?

The EPA has, as noted above, established the standards for green completions, and here is their expectation, as reported by the The State Journal (West Virginia).

The EPA’s New Source Performance Standards and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants will improve air quality and reduce health risks.

“The action taken today is expected to yield nearly a 95 percent reduction in smog-forming volatile organic compounds emitted from more than 13,000 hydraulically fractured gas wells each year,” said EPA Office of Air and Radiation Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Under the rule, operations are required to use “reduced emissions” or “green well completion” equipment to capture gas and condensate that comes up with hydraulic fracturing flowback, preventing their release into the air and making the valuable hydrocarbons available to the producer for sale.

And, this is what EPA says:

To ensure that smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are controlled without slowing natural gas production, EPA’s final NSPS for VOCs establishes two phases for reducing VOCs during well completion. This approach will provide industry time to order and manufacture enough equipment to capture natural gas using a process called green completions, also known as “reduced emissions completions.

They go on to describe the other stages as well.

Phase 1:  In the first phase (before Jan. 1, 2015), industry must reduce VOC emissions either by flaring using completion combustion device or by capturing the gas using green completions with a completion combustion device (unless combustion is a safety hazard or is prohibited by state or local regulations).

A completion combustion device burns off the gas that would otherwise escape during the well-completion period (combustion generally would occur through pit flaring). Industry may use completion combustion devices to reduce VOC emissions until Jan. 1, 2015, unless state or local requirements prohibit the practice or require more stringent controls. EPA encourages industry to begin using green completions during this time.

Phase 2:  Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, operators must capture the gas and make it available for use or sale, which they can do through the use of green completions.

–  EPA estimates that use of green completions for the three- to 10-day flowback period reduces VOC emissions from completions and recompletions of hydraulically fractured wells by 95 percent at each well.

–  Both combustion and green completions will reduce the VOCs that currently escape into the air during well completion. However, capturing the gas through a green completion prevents a valuable resource from going to waste and does not generate NOx, which is a byproduct of combustion.

Interestingly, a study has just been released by MIT that indicates “The use of flaring and reduced emission completions reduce the levels of actual fugitive emissions from shale well completion operations to about 216 Gg CH4, or 50 Mg CH4 per well, a release substantially lower than several widely quoted estimates.”   It looks like the Howarth study just took yet another hit.

Are green completions something new?  Not exactly.

Some companies have been doing green completions for almost a decade.  One example is Devon Energy Corporation and here’s what they have to say:

Green completions have been Devon’s standard practice in the Barnett Shale since 2004. The company uses the same process to complete wells in New Mexico, Wyoming, Oklahoma and south Texas. Using this process, Devon has reduced methane emissions by more than 15 billion cubic feet in the Barnett Shale area of north Texas. Not long ago, green completions were so uncommon that Devon had to look as far as Wyoming to rent the necessary filtering equipment. Now, more than 2,000 green completions later, that rental equipment is available readily and locally.

Devon’s green completions practice stems from their voluntary participation in the EPA’s Natural Gas STAR Program. The procedure generally is not required in the Barnett Shale except in the city of Fort Worth and at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. The vast majority of Devon’s Barnett Shale wells are outside those locales.

EFD reports, based on input from Devon, that “the rental cost for the equipment is roughly $1,000 per day and can save an average of 11,900 Mcf of natural gas per well from being vented into the atmosphere.  In their case, the conservative net value of gas saved was $50,000 per well.”

Green completions are yet another demonstration of technology advancing faster than natural gas opponents, who are always debating yesterday’s issues.  They’re still talking flaring and open pits, while the industry has moved well beyond both.  It just keeps getting better, while our friends on the other side only see doom and gloom because they’re focused on the past and refuse to see the future.


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