• What Are Fugitive Emissions?

Health & Safety

What Are Fugitive Emissions?

Sep 18 2015

Fugitive emissions are accidental emissions of vapours or gases from pressurised apparatus, either due to faulty equipment, leakage or other unforeseen mishaps. It can also occur through evaporation, in such sources as storage tanks or wastewater treatment facilities. Though not limited to industrial settings, the vast majority of fugitive emissions take place in factories, power plants and the suchlike.

Due to the fact that many power generation stations have an incredibly high potential for fugitive emissions, it can be very difficult to locate and rectify all of the problems. As such, fugitive emissions can often comprise an alarming amount of the total emissions of a site.

Why Fugitive Emissions Are Dangerous

As well as representing a loss in economic terms through lost commodities, fugitive emissions are also responsible for contributing to climate change and air pollution. For example, a 2009 assessment of greenhouse gas emissions in the Canadian oil sands industry estimated that 4% of all GHG emissions came from fugitive sources.

Whilst this damage to our environment is clearly undesirable, fugitive emissions can also pose a more immediate threat. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene can be very harmful to humans exposed to them over a long period of time – meaning that workers in oil refineries or chemical plants are at risk of developing serious health complications. Similarly, communities which are based in close proximity to such plants are also at risk.

Furthermore, the emission of such gases through leaks, venting or flaring significantly increase the risk of accident or explosion on site. As such, fugitive emissions are clearly an undesirable and dangerous hazard of the workplace.

How to Curb Fugitive Emissions

The best way to reduce fugitive emissions is through regular testing and maintenance. Leak detection should be scheduled at regular intervals using gas detection devices, which can measure the amount of vapours escaping, determine what they are and decide on an appropriate course of action.

However, over recent years, more advanced techniques of detecting gas leakages have been developed. “Method 21”, a method involving a flame ionisation detector, is the most commonly-used technique for sniffing out leakages in an industrial setting.

Meanwhile, optimal gas imaging (OGI) has been introduced more recently and has shown promising results in the early stages of its development. Employing an infrared camera to “see” escaping gases inside a plant or factory, OGI is enjoying a growing reputation and appears to be able to detect leakages more thoroughly than traditional techniques. For more information on this potentially revolutionary new approach, see the article Abating Fugitive Emissions More Efficiently.

Another technology which has been developed over the last 15 years is differential absorption lidar (DIAL). This has the added bonus of being able to detect fugitive emissions remotely, from a distance of several hundred metres. This reduces risk and has proved itself capable of detecting gases more thoroughly than previously preferred techniques.


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