North Dakota’s Flaring Problem Has Its Roots in Excessive Regulation

A gas flare in western North Dakota.

The environmental activism aimed at impeding, and sometimes even blocking, the build-out of energy infrastructure such as pipelines and refineries/processing plants is bad for the environment.

Don’t believe me? Witness the problems the oil and gas industry is having in addressing the flaring issue here in North Dakota.

Back in 2014 our state developed, along side said industry, a plan for reducing the amount of gas flared in the state. It featured a cap on the amount of gas allowed to be flared that has reduced over time.

From the order passed by the State Industrial Commission:

It’s largely been successful. Since July of 2014 (that’s when the policy was passed, it took effect in October) we have seen a sharp reduction in the percentage of gas flared:

As you can see from the end of the chart, though, is that we have a problem. Currently the cap on flaring is 15 percent. The industry exceeded that cap by just a little bit recently.

Now the industry is asking the State Industrial Commission – made up of Governor Doug Burgum, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring, they develop and enforce these regulations – to give them long-term relief from these regulations.

But the Commission, rightly I think, said no. We’ve made a lot of progress on the flaring issue. We don’t want to start going backward.

Especially since North Dakota’s flaring regulations aren’t really the problem. They’re perfectly reasonable.

The problem is the difficulty in building the infrastructure to capture this gas, and that problem as its roots in excessive regulation.

Interestingly, gas capture at oil wells in most of the state was at 86 percent in November (the last month reported), putting the flaring percentage below the current cap. Capture on the Fort Berthold Reservation, however, where oil and gas producers must contend with a byzantine maze of tribal and federal regulations is significantly lower. It was at just 75 percent in November.

Governor Burgum, during a recent meeting of the Industrial Commission, put his finger on the problem:

Gov. Doug Burgum, chairman of the three-member Industrial Commission, said a “bureaucratic labyrinth” is creating the flaring issues on the reservation, while areas adjacent to Fort Berthold have much higher gas capture rates.

In addition to that “labyrinth,” consider that anyone wanting to build a pipeline or a gas processing facility to help capture more gas in North Dakota is likely to face fierce opposition from political operatives and activist lawyers.

Today Hess announced that they’d be investing $150 million in a new gas processing facility to be located near Watford City, not to mention another $100 million in gas gathering pipelines.

Yet one need look no further than the violent riots left wing activists staged against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the on-going protests against the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, and the activism against the Davis Refinery near Belfield to understand that announcing these facilities isn’t the same as actually building them.

Plus the Hess investment, as important as it is, isn’t enough. “Today every cubic foot of natural gas we produce has to get into one of two pipelines,” Helms has said. “After 2022, those pipelines are 100 percent full of North Dakota gas. There is no place to put another cubic foot of gas.”

The simple truth is that we’re all using the sort of oil and gas produced in North Dakota. It powers our vehicles. It heats our homes. It’s used in the manufacture of products we use every day. Given that reality, the responsible thing to do would be to develop the infrastructure necessary to safely develop those resources.

Unfortunately extremist environmental activists are bent on obstructing that development.

Ironically, their obstruction has side effects – like difficulty in hitting flaring reduction goals – which are bad for the environment.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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