O&G Industry Responds to Bakken Gas Flaring Scrutiny

While the incidence of natural gas flaring in North Dakota has risen steadily, the number of flares that presently exist could be only the tip of the iceberg, according to Reuters. The state currently has roughly 9,000 wells, and that number is expected to reach 50,000 within the next 15 or 16 years.

Except in emergency conditions or during testing, natural gas is not flared at gas wells. However, the natural gas that rises to the surface of oil wells is frequently flared if there is no existing infrastructure to contain and move the gas to the market, or re-inject it into the ground, or use it as a source of fuel at the wellhead.

Producers note that the practice is not only cheaper, but also better for the environment than allowing the methane present in unburned natural gas to be released into the atmosphere. For their part, regulators acknowledge that flaring is less harmful to the environment than releasing unburned natural gas – and its methane – into the atmosphere, but they also view gas flaring as a practice that is still harmful to the environment, as well as a waste of a natural resource.

An Industry Task Force Pledges to Reduce Gas Flaring

For all the good that the Bakken has brought to North Dakota, and to the country, the increase in gas flaring in the formation has been troubling.

“Everybody sees that flare and it’s an obvious source of frustration,” Mark Wald, owner of Blaise Energy, told the Bismark Tribune. “You ask yourself, ‘how can we capture that energy?’ There’s got to be a better way.”

A new task force, working with regulators, may have come up with a way to reset the debate in ways that could give both industry and regulators more of what they want going forward.

The industry told the North Dakota Industrial Commission – the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency – earlier this year that it would significantly increase the amount of natural gas that is captured. The task force, representing hundreds of companies in the state, said it will be mounting an all-out effort to capture nearly all of the natural gas that is flared by 2020, according to the New York Times.

Within two years, the task force said, it will capture 85 percent of the natural gas; within six years, the task force added, it will be capturing up to 90 percent of the gas. Because an increase of up to 40 percent in the amount of natural gas is expected by the end of 2015, that will be an even greater improvement than it seems.

The improvements will come from quicker construction of gas-gathering pipelines and processing pipelines, the task force told the commission. It also asked for the commission to impose stricter restrictions that would require producers to come up with plans to capture natural gas before filing for drilling permits.


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