Natural gas flaring is more than just blasts of flames jetting high above the New Jersey Turnpike and gas wells around the world. The burning off of excess natural gas spews carbon into the atmosphere, and big health and environmental problems may be developing.
The fiery byproduct of natural gas and crude oil processing sends about 400 metric tons of emissions into the atmosphere per year worldwide, causing quality-of-life issues. The problem is particularly acute in the U.S. which has more flare stacks — the towering structures from which flames bellow — than any other country and generates about 10% of the world’s flare-related emissions.
Companies have been searching for solutions, and startup Crusoe Energy thinks it’s found a way to cut flaring and use excess gas for things like Bitcoin mining.
An agreement the Denver-based company signed last week with Canada’s Enerplus will provide a showcase for its modular, mobile data system, which uses gas that would otherwise be flared to fuel generators that power small server farms. The computers can execute Bitcoin mining and other non-energy applications.
Crusoe will deploy 10 new systems for the oil and gas company at oil fields in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota by the end of the year. That will add to five systems that are already operating at Enerplus facilities in Wyoming, North Dakota and Colorado.
The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Flaring has been especially problematic in North Dakota, which flared enough gas in the massive Bakken Shale oilfields it shares with Montana and Canada to heat 4.25 million homes. The U.S. flares about 335 billion cubic feet of gas per year, according to 2017 data from the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership.
Crusoe said in a statement that its existing systems have already removed more than 25 million cubic feet of natural gas flaring, significantly reducing toxic air emissions. The company says that its technology eliminates 99% of volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. “The Crusoe team is passionate about our mission to provide a reliable and scalable solution to routine flaring throughout North America,” said Crusoe President Cully Cavness.
A two-well pilot had increased the company’s ability to capture gas by about 400,000 cubic feet per day, Enerplus VP of US Operations and Engineering Terry Eichinger said in a statement. The average U.S. home uses approximately 1,000 cubic feet of gas every four days.
The latest announcement comes three months after Crusoe closed on a $4.5 million funding round led by Bain Capital Ventures and Founders Fund Pathfinder, the venture firm founded by billionaire Peter Thiel. Winklevoss Capital, the VC firm of technology investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, Wicklow Capial and Dragonfly Capital Partners also participated in the funding.
Crusoe, which has raised $5.1 million on total, said at the time it would use the capital to accelerate production of its products and expand the use of its technology.
Crusoe’s systems serve wells generating anywhere from 70,000 to 300,000 cubic feet of unused gas and the company says that it can scale its modules to handle over one million cubic feet of extra gas.
If its technology can continue to prove itself, Crusoe may find additional opportunities. Among other large energy companies operating in Bakken are SRC Energy, High Point Resources and Whiting Petroleum. In 2017, Texas’s giant Permian Basin burned 104 billon cubic feet of gas, more than 4% of overall production the highest total among U.S. oil fields.