“It’s safer to have the gas burn.”
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:
They’ve been mistaken for everything from forest fires to gas well explosions — even alien spacecraft.
But fear not, those “giant flames in the sky,” as some call them, are all a part of the Marcellus Shale gas well boom here in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Looking like huge Roman candles high atop the horizon of mostly rural landscapes, gas well flares sometimes can be seen from as far as 10 miles away.
The flaming hydrocarbons spewing up a mile or more from the depths of the earth — and sounding much like a jet engine — can be frightening the first time someone sees it.
“For some of the bigger ones, we got calls, but once people realized it was a controlled burn, they tapered off,” said Jeff Yates, Washington County’s director of emergency services, about hundreds of 911 calls that the county has received in the past several years…
As with other aspects of Marcellus Shale drilling, there has been controversy over pollution, specifically air emissions from the burning flares.
Companies such as Range Resources have been flaring fewer wells in favor of new technologies, including the use of no-flare or contained-flare well completions.
Although it isn’t the ideal solution, burning the natural gas is better for the environment than directly releasing methane — a greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere, Mr. Gaudlip said. Not flaring, which was the practice decades ago, also creates an ignition hazard.
“It’s safer to have the gas burn,” he said…