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Flares burn off excess natural gas from oil well sites near Williston in August.

With natural gas production on the rise and infrastructure unable to keep pace, the North Dakota Petroleum Council has reconvened a task force to revisit the issue of flaring.

“It became clear we needed to revisit this issue in a rapidly changing environment and pursue new innovations and new ideas to ensure we’re continuing to meet our goals and capture more natural gas for the benefit of mineral owners, value-added markets and the state as a whole," said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. 

Oil companies produced 2.08 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day in December. About 273 million cubic feet per day of natural gas was flared.

Buildout of pipelines and processing plants were inhibited by low oil prices starting in 2015, and now the industry finds itself behind again as production increases, according to Ness.

Wayde Schafer, of the Sierra Club Dacotah Chapter, said this was his group’s concern during the first go-round of flaring regulation.

“We kind of predicted that (companies would struggle to meet flaring targets),” he said, but he’s hopeful this time the rules can be made with more teeth rather than being voluntary.

“Their feet really need to be held to the fire a bit more,” said Schafer, adding that rules need hard targets and sanctions with a reduction in permits issued if gas capture can’t keep pace.

The NDPC task force is made up of 60 people from oil and pipeline companies. Members are gathering data from companies about anticipated production in each region of the Bakken to compare with available processing and gathering infrastructure, Ness said.

“We’ll aggregate all that information so we know where we’re at region by region,” he said.

Six subcommittees on the task force will discuss different issues: infrastructure buildout, right-of-way and tribal regulatory challenges, sour gas contamination, remote capture technologies, new operator engagement and reworking of the gas capture plan requirements.

The current gas capture plan filing system is falling short because so many wells are being capped after drilling rather than starting production right away, according to Ness. By the time production starts months later, pipeline and processing capacity has been gobbled up, nullifying the capture plan.

He said a later filing date or an opportunity to update those capture plans  would make them more useful.

But Schafer worries putting off the filing would “really be waiting to the last minute” and is something his group would oppose.

Ness said the group as plans to make recommendations to the Bureau of Indian Affairs relating to pipeline permitting on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

“The tribes are doing a good job, but there’s a bottleneck in the BIA,” Ness said. “We need more people in New Town.”

The NDPC task force is meeting monthly, plans to report back to the North Dakota Industrial Commission regularly and will develop recommendations on how to increase capture by the middle of May.

Schafer said Sierra Club plans to be part of the potential rule revision process when those recommendations are available.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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Business Reporter