A new player in the Bakken seeks to dramatically reduce natural gas flaring by laying the groundwork for a new industry.
Bakken Midstream is developing projects in North Dakota that CEO Mike Hopkins says will attract companies to add value to the state’s abundant natural gas supply.
Most of North Dakota’s infrastructure is designed to export natural gas and natural gas liquids out of the state.
Bakken Midstream seeks to develop a new type of infrastructure to allow the natural gas to be used in the state, Hopkins said.
“We’re really talking about a fundamental change in how the natural gas industry operates in North Dakota,” Hopkins told The Bismarck Tribune.
Hopkins, an entrepreneur who spent part of his career in Alberta, Canada, said he sees a lot of similarities between North Dakota and the circumstances in Alberta in the mid-1970s.
“All the same conditions. A big oil boom. Gas being produced in large volumes. A lack of gas infrastructure. Large flaring,” he said.
The province developed an industry to produce value-added natural gas products, including petrochemicals, instead of exporting raw commodities, Hopkins said. That allowed Alberta to dramatically reduce flaring, create jobs and a new tax base, he said.
“Alberta provides a good roadmap of what you could do with your natural gas,” Hopkins said. “Instead of being a captive exporter and flaring it, you could actually create a whole value-add industry.”
Hopkins declined to discuss any specific projects because the plans are still in development. Examples of projects Hopkins said are needed include gathering infrastructure, processing plants, storage facilities and transmission pipelines.
Bakken Midstream is not a petrochemical company and is not proposing a plastics plant, Hopkins said.
But a plastics plant could be one example of a value-added industry that could find North Dakota attractive if the state had the right infrastructure, he said. Other examples include natural gas-fired power generation, enhanced oil recovery projects and fertilizer plants.
North Dakota produced a record 2.8 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas in March. About 20%, or 555 million cubic feet per day, was flared due to inadequate pipelines, processing plant capacity and other infrastructure.
“If you look at the flaring statistics, they’ve been pretty consistently discouraging,” Hopkins said.
The state could virtually eliminate natural gas flaring by developing new markets for natural gas products within the state, he said.
“When you have that, there is no reason why flaring shouldn't come down dramatically and stay down long term,” Hopkins said. “To me, that is ultimately the solution for flaring.”
Hopkins said he’s been working on project development since last November. The founder of the company, Steve Lebow, was a financier of businesses such as Costco, Starbucks, PetSmart and Ulta Beauty, Hopkins said.
“We definitely have the financial capacity to bring outside investment needed for this,” Hopkins said. “These are not small investments. Most of the things we’re looking at start in the hundreds of millions and quickly can get into the billions.”
Hopkins said a first Bakken Midstream project could be under construction as early as 2021 with operation likely to begin by 2023.
There is “incredible opportunity” in Bakken natural gas, particularly for the petrochemical industry, said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.
“That is potentially the next economy of North Dakota,” Ness said.
(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or Amy.Dalrymple@bismarcktribune.com)