Flared Gas

In this Sept. 23, 2008 photo, Natural gas is flared from an oil well near Parshall, N.D. Enough natural gas to heat every home in North Dakota through at least two brutal winters was burned off as an unmarketable byproduct in the state's oil patch in 2008. Officials say the state lacks processing facilities and pipelines to move it to market. (AP Photo/James MacPherson)

James MacPherson

A Fargo lawmaker introduced a bill Friday that would eliminate all exemptions for the flaring of natural gas from an oil or gas well after one year of production.

Democratic Sen. Tim Mathern called his bill a compromise. He said it strikes a balance between allowing the oil and gas industry to continue its work while eliminating the flaring of valuable gas and improving the quality of life for western North Dakotans.

“It essentially takes our present law and changes it where no exemptions are made. You can’t come to the Industrial Commission like they are right now and say ‘hey we need an exemption,’” Mathern said.

Under current law, after one year of production a well must either be capped, connected to a gas gathering line or connected to an electric generator that uses at least 75 percent of the gas from a well. Companies are able to come before the Industrial Commission to request exemptions.

Mathern said nearly 30 percent of natural gas in western North Dakota is being flared compared to the national average, which is between 5 percent and 10 percent.

“It’s bringing a higher quality of life to western North Dakota, it’s putting an end to waste (and) it’s addressing the issue of climate change,” Mathern said.

Mathern said his bill isn’t an attempt to slow down or halt oil production. He said it’s an acknowledgement that the technology to rein in flaring is available and should be utilized. Mathern said if passed, companies would be on notice that although they can continue drilling but understand that they face shutting down wells until they’ve addressed flaring after one year.

“This is taking a, what I’d call, a step-wise approach in addressing health and waste,” Mathern said.

Alison Ritter, spokeswoman for the state Department of Mineral Resources, said the department hadn’t seen Mathern’s bill as of Friday afternoon. Ritter said in an email that Lynn Helms, the director of the department’s Oil and Gas Division, would need to review the bill before providing comment.

Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.