Flaring in the oil patch continues to exceed the state's goals and it appears state officials are willing to allow it to continue.
In June, flaring increased 155 million cubic feet per day to 687 million cubic feet per day. For the month, 24% of the natural gas produced in the state was flared at well sites. North Dakota’s target was 12%.
On the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, 37% of the natural gas produced in June was burned off.
North Dakota and the oil industry have struggled since the beginning of the oil boom to limit flaring. A plan was developed establishing increasingly tougher flaring targets in the state. At the start, the industry was hitting the targets. The state and industry knew it would be more difficult to meet the targets as time went on.
The last few months have been disappointing, with June the low point.
The state can punish oil companies for missing flaring goals by imposing production restrictions on them. Because of the June numbers, 13 operators could face restrictions. It’s more likely they will receive variances from the Oil and Gas Division because of extenuating circumstances.
The June numbers were influenced by a pipeline that carries gas from Canada and North Dakota to Chicago being shut down for repairs that took longer than expected. Two gas plants in the state also were closed for repairs. A plant in Bowman County was taken out of operation because of low production in the area.
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The Tribune editorial board understands how these problems impact flaring. Since the oil boom started, the industry and state have faced a lack of pipeline and processing capacity for gas. While pipelines and plants have been added, production has continued to increase.
Complaints about flaring prompted efforts to place limits on the burning of the gas. Mineral owners lose money when the gas is flared, the impact on the environment is a concern, it’s noisy and it’s a waste of a resource.
The state has been reluctant to enforce the targets because it would mean a reduction in production and less oil revenue for North Dakota. The Tribune doesn’t believe it’s unreasonable in situations like those that existed in June to ask the industry to temporarily scale back production. Repairs and maintenance will be necessary and the industry needs to work around them.
There are more pipelines and plants scheduled to go online in the next year, and that will help. We can’t allow flaring to get out of control until that happens.
In the future, officials hope to lure the petrochemical industry to North Dakota to make use of the natural gas. That’s a long-term solution to flaring, and we need to do something about the present situation.
Our concern is the state is going to allow flaring to continue its up-and-down cycle without doing anything. If North Dakota officials value increasing oil production over curtailing flaring, they need to be honest with the state’s residents.
Either we are serious about reducing flaring or we are not.