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The Davis Refinery: Changing an Industry by Addressing Flaring Head On

Courtesy of Bakken Oil Report

Meridian Energy Group, Inc. has been on a mission to revolutionize the refining industry for over five years. With the final issuance of the Permit to Construct (“PTC”) from the North Dakota Department of Health – Air Quality Division (the “NDDoH”) in sight, the finish line is on the horizon, and the Company is confident the Davis Refinery will become the image of the modern. Because Davis is so close to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, designing a plant that can meet stringent Class 1 air quality standards has been the major focus of Davis design and the Permit to Construct process. The result has been an extraordinary level of innovation. NDDoH posted its draft of the PTC last December, documenting the extensive measures taken to comply with Class 1 air quality requirements. This includes meticulous air dispersion modeling conducted by Meridian and NDDoH, and extensive monitoring, to ensure ongoing compliance is achieved by the Davis Refinery.

A noticeable distinction between Davis and refineries utilizing legacy technology will be the greatly diminished usage and size of gas flares, alternatively known as flare stacks. Flare stacks, a common component of older plants, are no longer a requirement in a modern, greenfield refinery.

Flare stacks are gas combustion devices used to burn off flammable gas to protect against over-pressuring industrial plant equipment. Historically, during plant or partial plant startups and shutdowns, flare stacks were used for the planned combustion of gases over relatively short periods. When petroleum crude oil is extracted and produced from onshore or offshore oil wells, raw natural gas associated with the oil is brought to the surface as well. Particularly in areas of the world lacking pipelines and gas transportation infrastructure, vast amounts of such associated gas are commonly flared as waste or unusable gas, and a large flare stack is a common sight at an old refinery built around legacy technology.

Fast forward forty years – innovation and significant advances in technology will enable the Davis Refinery to regularly operate without any significant external flaring at all. In fact, most waste gas flaring will occur within an enclosed, ground-level unit, and not in a flare stack. Rather than flare gas as waste, most such gas, which was once waste, is turned into energy to power the Refinery. Through complex vapor recovery systems, Davis will capture those gasses and recycle them for use in running its heater and boiler systems, and such flaring that does occur will be in the ground-level enclosed units.

The Davis design is unique in that the backup flare stack system, which is the main disposal mode in older refineries, is there merely as a secondary backup system. It will only operate in the event of upsets or malfunctions to the enclosed ground-level flare. During normal operation, the Davis Refinery vapor recovery system is primary system designed to capture all relief flows, with the enclosed flare as its backup, and then, if needed, the flare stack will be employed.

Older refineries do not usually have enclosed flares or refinery wide vapor recovery systems and typically send relief flows directly to the flare stacks as a part of normal operations. Given the advances in technology, as will be demonstrated by the Davis Refinery, older refineries will face tighter regulations by air quality agencies and be forced to install similar vapor recovery systems as those used in at Davis to minimize flaring. This is just one of the many ways which Meridian’s Davis Refinery is leading the way in setting new standards for the hydrocarbon processing industry in general, and crude refining in particular.


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