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Offshore Environmental Risks - Air Pollution

A look at the more common risks that are linked to air emissions from offshore drilling operations.

Air emissions

The main sources of air emissions (continuous or non-continuous) resulting from offshore activities include: combustion sources from power and heat generation, and the use of compressors, pumps, and reciprocating engines (boilers, turbines, and other engines); emissions resulting from flaring and venting of hydrocarbons; and fugitive emissions.

Principal pollutants from these sources include NOx, SOx, CO2, CO, and particulates. Additional pollutants can include: hydrogen sulfide (H2S); volatile organic compounds (VOC) methane and ethane; benzene, ethyl benzene, toluene, and xylenes (BTEX); glycols; and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).


Exhaust gases

Exhaust gas emissions produced by the combustion of gas or liquid fuels in turbines, boilers, compressors, pumps and other engines for power and heat generation, or for water injection or oil and gas export, can be the most significant source of air emissions from offshore facilities.


Venting and flaring

Associated gas brought to the surface with crude oil during oil production is sometimes disposed off at onshore/ offshore facilities by venting or flaring to the atmosphere. This practice is now widely recognized to be a waste of a valuable resource, as well as a significant source of GHG emissions.

All efforts should be made to keep flaring to the minimum and only for technical reasons ad safety. Flares are also a problem in terms of aesthetics.


Fugitive emissions

Fugitive emissions at onshore facilities may be associated with cold vents, leaking pipes and tubing, valves, connections, flanges, packings, open-ended lines, pump seals, compressor seals, pressure relief valves, tanks or open pits / containments, and hydrocarbon loading and unloading operations.


Well testing

During well testing, flaring of produced hydrocarbons should be avoided wherever practical and possible, and especially near local communities or in environmentally sensitive areas. Feasible alternatives should be evaluated for the recovery of hydrocarbon test fluids, while considering the safety of handling volatile hydrocarbons, for transfer to a processing facility or other alternative disposal options.

An evaluation of disposal alternatives for produced hydrocarbons should be adequately documented and recorded.

If flaring is the only option available for the disposal of test fluids, only the minimum volume of hydrocarbons required for the test should be flowed and well test durations should be reduced to the extent practical. An efficient test flare burner head equipped with an appropriate combustion enhancement system should be selected to minimize incomplete combustion, black smoke, and hydrocarbon fallout.

Volumes of hydrocarbons flared should be recorded.


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