The future of flaring in Western Canada is thick with uncertainty. Will public pressure lead to an outright ban or will more sophisticated flaring systems improve a blackened image? Pat Roche reports on the controversy and details alternative technologies that hope to reduce the common oil-country sight of flares flickering in the nighttime sky

Headquartered off the beaten track in the sleepy east-central Alberta town of Stettler, Tornado has built an international business, including a Houston branch with 50 employees. Got a flaring problem? You can solve it with flaring technology, Manis insists.

"Is flaring really the problem? No. It's the way the industry operates. Because we can control the emissions to an extremely high level," maintains Manis, who blames oil company purchasing managers who choose cheap, open-pipe flare stacks for giving all flaring technology a black eye. [In other words, hide the flame of the flare. The big problem is the CO2 which cannot be scrubbed--RSB]

In Alberta, about 4,400 flares are flickering round the clock, burning natural gas volumes produced from oil wells. Another 600 flares burn at gas plants and scores of other mostly short-term flares are blazing away on any given day.

In its June 1998 report on flaring, the Clean Air Strategic Alliance said about half the solution gas that is currently flared could potentially be used to generate electricity. (Last year [1998], flares disposed of 1.451 billion metric tonnes -- 51.23 bcf -- of solution gas in Alberta, according to Alberta Energy and Utility Board figures.)