North Dakota is an oil play, but the wells here also produce a lot of natural gas as a byproduct of oil production. More, even, than the oil industry itself expected when they worked with the state to put in place new flaring regulations five years ago. When that gas can’t be captured it’s burned off, or flared, something nobody is happy about.
The type of gas produced is part of what makes capture so difficult.
“Bakken gas is extremely liquid rich,” Ness said, describing one of the problems in capturing and using the gas. “A traditional gas plant doesn’t work,” he said.
Still the industry has already invested billions in the infrastructure to capture and use the gas, and another $4 billion in infrastructure is set to be completed over the next two years. Ness believes that investment should “catch up” to the flaring issue, but warned that any regulatory reaction to the issue could be detrimental.
The state’s rules allow regulators to cap oil production if flaring exceeds limits, but Ness says caps on oil production would scare away investments for gas capture. “You don’t reach that investment by shutting off the wells,” he said.
“We have to build our way out of this,” he added.
Also on this episode, what does a wait line on top of Mt. Everest tell us about our increasingly narcissistic culture?
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