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EPA rules would hurt North Dakota effort to curb flaring, Helms says

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Lynn Helms

Lynn Helms, center, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, testifies to a House subcommittee in Washington, D.C. on June 6 with David Porter, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, left, and Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. 

WASHINGTON – North Dakota’s top oil regulator told members of a House subcommittee Wednesday that proposed federal regulations would harm the state’s ability to reduce natural gas flaring.

Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, was among six panelists who testified before the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. The hearing focused on the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of energy during the Obama administration.

Much of the discussion involved the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to address climate change by reducing carbon emissions. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the rules for coal-fired power plants until legal challenges – including one from North Dakota – can be resolved.

If the Clean Power Plan were implemented, it would shutter some of North Dakota’s coal-fired power plants, opponents say. But North Dakota’s oil industry needs more – not less – electrical generation in order to power the natural gas processing plants necessary to reduce flaring, Helms said.

Helms told House members that the loss of electrical power for gas gathering and processing between 2016 and 2020 would cause the flaring of 956 billion cubic feet of natural gas, resulting in a $107 million loss in tax revenue for the state and a $570 million loss in royalty income to mineral owners.

North Dakota has reduced natural gas flaring to 8 percent from a high of 36 percent in 2012, he said.

“This directly interferes with North Dakota’s ability to reduce natural gas flaring,” Helms said.

In addition, Helms criticized proposed EPA rules related to curbing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. He said the rule would conflict with numerous North Dakota regulations and cause problems for the state’s ability to regulate multi-well pads, which aim to reduce oil’s footprint on the landscape, Helms said.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission plans to file a petition of review of the EPA methane regulations defending the state’s jurisdiction over oil and gas regulation.

Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation for the EPA, told House members that the EPA’s regulatory efforts further the agency’s goals of protecting public health and the environment.

“We are guided in meeting those goals by science and by the law which serve as the backbone for each of the agency’s actions,” McCabe said.

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