Cove Point LNG terminal
Last Thursday, March 21st at 9:22 pm, Dominion Energy’s Cove Point LNG export facility along the shoreline of Maryland experienced a brief “flaring event” due to an issue with “a plant monitor.” The flare burned off excess gases and was contained and everything worked as it should have.
Dominion issued this exceptionally brief notice on its Facebook site:
We searched high and low for any further news or official announcements about the “flaring event” and found nothing, except this brief update from LNG World News:
US LNG operator Dominion Energy informed that its Cove Point natural gas liquefaction facility had a flaring even during last week due to an issue with a plant monitor.
The flaring occurred within an isolated section of the site, within a structure designed to safely combust the gases, in compliance with Maryland environmental regulations, the company said in a brief social media statement.
Plant safety systems functioned as designed to ensure safe conditions were maintained, Dominion said, adding that the event posed no safety risk to the public.
The $4 billion Cove Point facility, with a nameplate capacity of 5.25 mtpa, began producing LNG in March last year with the facility shipping its first commercial cargo the following month.
The plant became the second US shale gas-fed LNG export facility following Cheniere Energy’s startup at Sabine Pass in Louisiana.
The LNG export facility produces the chilled fuel for ST Cove Point, the joint venture of Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation and Tokyo Gas, and for India’s GAIL under 20-year contracts. (1)
In the absence of official information, folks will turn to social media and provide their own information. We expanded the comments under the original Facebook post and found this, in part:
We further expanded the comments under the comment posted by John Bren, and found this:
As you know, social media outlets like Facebook are notorious for unreliable information. We use Facebook, but always with a skeptical eye. Still, what we’re seeing in these comments, purportedly by people who live near the plant, is (for us) a communications fail on the part of Dominion. You would think those who live closest to the plant would be on a fast-dial system to let them know of anything out of the ordinary happening at the plant. (It’s easy to armchair quarterback and be critical after the fact, we understand.)
What in the heck is a “flaring event” anyway?
The following explanation comes from Exxon and their Singapore operations, addressing flaring that happens at petrochemical facilities and refineries. We’d say LNG qualifies as a petchem facility.
What are flares?
Flares are important safety devices used in refineries and petrochemical facilities. They safely burn excess hydrocarbon gases which cannot be recovered or recycled. Excess hydrocarbon gases are burnt in the flare systems in an environmentally-sound manner, as an alternative to releasing the vapour directly into the atmosphere.
During flaring, excess gases are combined with steam and/or air, and burnt off in the flare system to produce water vapour and carbon dioxide. The process of burning these excess gases is similar to the burning of liquefied petroleum gases (LPG), which some of us use as fuel for home cooking.
The use of flares is minimised to the extent that is possible. However, flaring can occur during a start-up and shut-down of any of our facilities for maintenance, and also during unplanned operational interruptions such as power outages.
When there is flaring at our facilities, we follow established guidelines to promptly inform our neighbouring companies and Government agencies such as the National Environmental Agency (NEA) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
There are generally two types of flares that we use at our Singapore manufacturing facilities:
- Elevated flares, where the flare tip is between 20 to 150 meters above ground.
- Ground flares, where the flare tip is about two to three meters above ground, which is fenced off with a high heat-shield fencing, which also acts as a safety zone
What can sometimes be seen or heard in instances of flaring?
A flame or a glow:
- Members of the public may become concerned when they see flaring and mistake them for fires.
- The elevated flare presents itself as a flame.
- The ground flare is not visible in the day. At night, it may cast an orange glow in the night sky, depending on cloud cover.
- Sometimes, a white cloud may be observed around the flare. It is actually steam that is injected into the flare system to support clean combustion.
- While we strive to achieve smokeless flaring, it may not always be possible during operational situations.
- On some occasions, there may be black smoke from the flare.
- The smoke, which is mainly made up of carbon particles, occurs when there is insufficient amount of air to support a complete combustion. This may happen when there is a sudden release of excess gases to the system with a delay in response before sufficient steam can be supplied to the burning process.
- Steam is usually added to the gases to increase turbulence in the gas flow. This increases air intake that helps to achieve complete combustion and smokeless flaring.
- Flaring may produce a rumbling noise. It may sound like thunder.
- This is due to the turbulent mixing of gases, air and steam. The sound is similar to what you hear when you fan a campfire, and oxygen is mixed with the flame.
ExxonMobil is committed to ensuring that our operations run safely and with minimal impact on the community and the environment. We strive to minimise flaring, keeping it to the times that it is necessary for the continued safe operations of our plants.
When you see flaring, please be assured that flares play a key role in keeping refineries and chemical plants running safely. (2)
There is a pipeline compressor station about three miles from where MDN is written, in the Town of Windsor. In a recent conversation with Williams representatives, we learned that flaring at the station happens in an enclosed apparatus/tower–and that nothing escapes out of it. All of the excess gas gets burned off, and the emissions are trapped and do not enter the air. We have no idea how Cove Point flaring works. Does it create a visible flame? Does it vent into the air? Inquiring minds want to know.
(1) LNG World News (Mar 26, 2019) – Dominion: plant monitor causes flaring at Cove Point LNG
(2) ExxonMobil Singapore (undated, accessed Mar 27, 2019) – Understanding flares
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