During the exploration and production of oil, natural gas or geothermal heat, natural gas is sometimes flared or vented. This can result in the release of radon. The level of exposure of workers and the public to radon due to flaring or venting is in practice very low. Due to the radon activity concentration in natural gas, flaring and venting of natural gas is subject to licensing, unless the practices are specifically exempted.
Natural gas contains a small amount of naturally-occurring radon gas. Radon is slightly radioactive, and inhalation of radon leads to exposure to ionising radiation. As exposure to radiation results in health risks, such practices are subject to rules and regulations. However, the exposure to naturally-occurring radiation is often difficult to control. Accordingly, the exposure to radiation resulting from venting or flaring natural gas is currently excluded from these rules and regulations.
In principle, flaring and venting of natural gas is prohibited by environmental legislation, and it is permitted only when necessary for safety reasons. This applies, for example, to maintenance work on an installation or in case of an emergency.
The regulations will be amended in 2018 due to new European regulations aimed at protecting people against ionising radiation. These new regulations must be implemented into the Dutch framework of regulations by 6 February 2018 at the latest. As a result, as of the above date, flaring and venting of natural gas in the oil and gas industry may no longer be excluded from rules and regulations. This means that Member states must decide whether they find it necessary to subject flaring and venting of natural gas to regulatory control (license, registration or reporting) as of that date.
RIVM carried out this study at the request of the Authority for Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection (ANVS).