Romania is one of the largest producers of oil and gas in Europe, but its production systems have been neglected for decades. Romgaz and OMV Petrom are the major producers (OMV also the major operating company in Austria, where we have previously recorded footage).
In June 2021, CATF and 2Celsius travelled around the country to visit around 50 fossil fuel production and transmission sites. The sites included oil and gas wells, tank batteries and storage facilities, production and processing stations, and transmission stations. Most of the sites we visited were in southern Romania.
1) Gas is continuously vented to release pressure from the system at most oil and gas sites.
Venting, or the deliberate release of methane gas, is a systematic practice in Romania. Gas was being released purposefully in order to release pressure from the system. The biggest venting events we documented came from emergency relief stacks. Most of these relief vents were located at an oil or gas processing station or a gas compressor station. At some sites, gas was being released at very high velocities during our visits. At the nearly fifty sites we visited, we found eight of these vent stacks actively releasing methane emissions. At one of these locations, we returned to the site twenty-four hours later to confirm that the emissions event was continuous, which they were.
OMV Petrom: Merisani Valcele Compressor Station
It was also common to see hatches and pressure release valves on storage tanks left open and continuous streaming emissions from separator tanks that separate the water, oil, and gas during processing. These venting practices can be prevented by capturing the gas and sending it along the pipeline or by flaring it. Smart policies introduced by the government can reduce venting. Throughout the trip, we saw few flares being used to burn the gas.
2) Wells are leaking methane and other hazardous gases throughout the country.
We looked at wells in various oil fields throughout Romania. We looked at a total of 26 wells. Of those wells, 25 of them were leaking methane and other toxic gases. Leaks were coming from different locations on the wellheads. In some cases, these leaks could easily be repaired by changing nuts and bolts, or tightening screws. In other cases, more significant work might need to be done.
OMV Petrom: Sector 14 Videle Est Oil Field
At many of these sites, it was also common to find oil spills around the wells, where either blowouts or bubble overs had occurred. Because of the presence of hydrogen sulphide in the reservoirs in Romania, we wore gas masks whenever we got close to the wells.
3) Oil storage tanks are old, rusted, and in desperate need of repair.
The digital photos of oil storage tanks throughout the country tells more about the age of the infrastructure than the optical gas images. Large, rusted holes were common in many of the active oil storage tanks we saw in Romania. The holes were so big that it was hard to visualize the gases that were coming out of them. The camera works better when the gas is being released from a small point source, but with these tanks, the gas had already been mixed with the air, so that by the time it was exiting the holes, the concentration of the gas was low.
4) Methane and other gases are leaking from surprising locations.
While many of the sites we filmed showed emissions from typical oil and gas processing equipment, there were some emissions sources that surprised us. The biggest surprise was finding an underground pipeline that had ruptured. While this is not atypical — pipelines ruptures around the world go unnoticed every day — it is rare to find a pipeline rupture when using an optical gas camera.
Another source of emissions that surprised us were underground sewer drains. At three oil processing sites, we saw gas coming from a drainage sewer in the middle of the sites. This is quite concerning as it must mean there is some pipe leakage or break underground.
OMV Petrom: Sector 16, Parc 4
5) Oil and gas production facilities are located close to communities.
Wells, storage, and processing sites are located close to communities. Ploiesti, a small city approximately 50 kilometers north of Bucharest, is the historical heart of Romania’s oil production. It is surrounded by wells and processing stations to the north.
The wellsites in the city of Campina (video above), about 80 kilometers north of Bucharest, were the most shocking. Two wells, owned and operated by OMV Petrom, are located 20 meters apart in a parking lot of an apartment complex. In between the two wells is a children’s playground. When we arrived, the playground was full of children, parents, and toddlers. We got out of our car and could smell the toxic fumes coming from the wells. It was no surprise to us that we saw emissions from the wells right when we turned the camera on.
OMV Petrom: Sector 23 Ploiesti West
Wells must be actively monitored to reduce leakages. When wells are no longer producing oil and gas, they must be properly closed and plugged, and regular checks should be made to ensure they are not emitting gas.
No less disturbing was the amount of methane and toxic emissions coming from an oil storage facility in the town of Badesti, about 60 kilometers north of Bucharest. The site had at least six large oil storage tanks, all of which were continuously venting significant quantities of gas into the atmosphere. One of the tanks had five or six different holes in the sides of it. Directly downwind, approximately 100 meters from the site, was a small village with a row of homes.
OMV Petrom: Ploiesti Central Oil Storage
In our work in the U.S.A, CATF has shown that communities living near oil and gas facilities face heightened health risks related to air pollution. This is an issue that hasn’t been properly studied within the EU, and something we urge the scientific community to pay closer attention to. Oil and gas facilities near communities need regularly perform leak detection and repair assessments to reduce increased exposure to harmful gases.