When North Dakota had a problem with gas flaring over the last several years it got a lot of attention from journalists, activists, and politicians. People were upset – and rightfully so, nobody likes to see gas flared – and demanded action from the industry and state regulators (who were often accused of being too soft on this issue).
So it’s odd, then, that when the state implements a plan to address flaring in cooperation with the oil and gas industry, and it reduces the amount of natural gas flared by a significant amount, that the news doesn’t get the same amount of coverage.
And that is exactly what has happened.
The North Dakota Industrial Commission – made up of Governor Jack Dalrymple, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem – have put in place a plan to get the state down below 10 percent flaring by 2020. In September of 2015 they got a lot of criticism when they pushed back some of the goals of the plan. Here’s a chart of what that looks like courtesy of the Energy Information Administration:
The thing is that, according to the most recent numbers from the Department of Mineral Resources, as of March the percentage of gas flared is already under 10 percent. It’s at 9.7 percent, which is the bottom of a steady decline in the flaring percentage:
Critics of using the flaring percentage as a metric of progress often say that it’s the actual volume of gas flared which matters. And they’re right. Ultimately what we’re concerned with is how much gas is getting wasted. But even there North Dakota has made big progress. From February of 2014 through February of 2016 (the last month for which numbers are available) the volume of gas flared is down over 54 percent:
You may be thinking that the flaring volume only went down because oil activity in North Dakota is slumping, but actually flaring was down in March despite gas production hitting an all time high according to the DMR’s Director’s Cut:
This is big progress.
Again, North Dakota’s oil and gas industry and state leaders have gotten a lot of flak over flaring. I feel like, given how far flaring has fallen, the industry and the state’s leaders deserve some credit.