If North Dakota expects carbon-based energy to continue to drive the state's economy, it needs to be aggressive in dealing with the national political and legal agendas of environmental groups. Along those lines, the North Dakota Industrial Commission made the right move in January when it gave Blaise Energy $375,000 in state research funds to figure out how to make better use of excess natural gas that surfaces in the drilling process.
The obvious waste of energy in the flaring off of excess natural gas can't be continued. Not in the present political climate. And not when that wasted natural gas could be put to good use.
Making this point was the Bureau of Land Management's decision on April 8 to pull 91,000 acres in Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota from an expected oil-lease auction so that the federal agency could study how oilfield activities can contribute to climate change. It's one of several similar actions by the BLM, highlighted by settlement of a lawsuit in March with several environmental groups in which oil and gas leases covering more than 30,000 acres in Montana were put on hold in order to evaluate climate change concerns. It's part of a contrary legal effort by a number of sophisticated, well-financed conservation and environmentalist groups.
The BLM wants to have the study done by the end of September.
Climate change and greenhouse gas emissions are hot button issues. While everyone agrees the climate is changing --- always has and will change, there's significant disagreement in the interpretation of the scientific data related to the role man and his activities have in that change.
The Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration has proven to be very sympathetic to the arguments that greenhouse gases generated by human activities have a dramatic impact on climate change. That view plays out in the BLM response to resource development and has serous consequences for North Dakota's economic well-being.
It's a big deal for the state. A record $75.4 million in oil and gas leases were auctioned off in our three-state region in fiscal 2009, with $74.2 million worth of leases in North Dakota. The state's Land Department auctioned off another $71.6 million in leases in November. The petroleum industry clearly sees a profitable future in North Dakota.
The flaring issue has been ongoing. In 2008, 30 percent of North Dakota's natural gas production was flared, but that was reduced to 10 percent last year. Yet it compares to less than 1 percent in oilfields nationwide. Related: more than $350 million in infrastructure improvements are either planned or under way to capture natural gas in the sate. Another option is to take that excess natural gas that's being flared and use it to generate electricity for rural electric cooperatives.
North Dakota has stepping up efforts to be efficient and responsible in harvesting energy resources for the good of the nation. And, for us, it's better to be proactive when it comes to reducing greenhouse emissions.