Flaring is a hot-button issue in North Dakota. The oil boom here produces a lot of natural gas as a by-product, and because the boom, well, boomed so quickly the infrastructure to capture the gas hasn’t kept up. So a lot of it – far too much – is burned off.
It’s become a political issue, with Democrats blaming the Republican state leaders for being too lax with flaring policies. But, as I’ve pointed out before, flaring is actually higher on federal lands in North Dakota than state lands.
Before I was basing that on statements made by public officials and state regulatory officials, but last week I requested some specific numbers from the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources. Today I got the numbers and, indeed, the percentage of gas flared is significantly higher on the reservation than off.
Per the numbers, in May 2014 North Dakota saw 27.32 percent of the gas produced in the state flared off. But if we separate flaring done on oil-producing lands regulated by the state fromoil-producing lands regulated by the feds (specifically, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation) there’s a pretty big difference.
On state lands, flaring drops to 26.63 percent when you don’t count flaring on FBR. On the FBR lands by themselves, flaring was 31.16 percent.
That’s actually less of a difference than has been reported previously – officials have said that flaring on the FBR has been close to 50 percent in the past – but this is just a one-month snapshot. The DMR plans on making these numbers available regularly starting in October when they begin to monitor the impact of the State Industrial Commission’s new flaring policies.
But the snapshot proves the point. It’s hard to argue that the State of North Dakota has been too lax on flaring when the federal government – under the Obama administration which is hardly a friend to fossil fuel energy production – has been worse. Which isn’t to say that the state shouldn’t move to fix the problem just because the feds are doing a poor job, but the political argument certainly becomes less coherent given these facts.
For what it’s worth, Rep. Kevin Cramer has been trying to address this issue proposing legislation giving tribes – specifically the Three Affiliated Tribes on the FBR – more autonomy over energy development. Unfortunately, the Obama administration is opposing the legislation.
Here are the county-by-county breakdowns for flaring in North Dakota, as well as the flaring numbers for FBR: