Flaring at wells in oil fields has always been a difficult-to-accept waste. Natural gas that could heat homes or power machines burns off into the atmosphere. It's a lose-lose situation for the petroleum industry, the nation and the environment.
In North Dakota's oil patch, 17 percent of the natural gas is flared, compared to only 1 percent nationally. The state's poor showing in this comparison has been hard to justify, a sort of public relations sore spot and an environmental faux pas.
That's why we like Mark Wald's idea of capturing that natural gas, using it to power a generator and then pushing the resulting electricity into the local grid. Loss turns into a win.
Ending the waste does not come without cost. Wald's company, Blaise Energy Inc., received a $375,000 state grant to study the capture-and-generation project. And Blaise Energy would like another $2 million grant from the federal government to help fund the $4.4 million proposal. But the result for the state, oil companies and electrical users is worth it. It's actually the right way to go about solving a tricky problem.
Blaise Energy will get the natural gas from the oil companies at no cost, but will have to pay the well owners a monthly fee to have equipment on the well site. He says he has investors and some agreements to sell the power.
Wald, who is a North Dakota native, believes his company can capture 600 million cubic feet of natural gas and covert it to 5 megawatts of electricity capable of supplying power to 5,000 homes.
This is just one more of the pieces falling into place for North Dakota's energy future. The state has been working to develop all of its sources of energy, and to improve the infrastructure necessary to move that energy to market. With that also comes the need to take care of the state's water, air and land.
Blaise Energy still has numerous hurdles to clear, including the Williston Basin's close proximity to the Class 1 air in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. However, the burning of natural gas has fewer emission problems that coal-fire electrical generation.
North Dakota will be well served by squeezing the natural gas waste in its oil fields down to the national average.