Boom brings changes

Sen. Tim Mathern, Fargo

If you live in western North Dakota or look at satellite images from outer space, you can see the changes brought on by the Bakken oil boom. While North Dakota relishes in the economic bounty, negative impacts are being seen and reported. One of them – natural gas flaring – we can and should readily address.

The flames from the natural gas flares can be seen for miles and light up the sky. The spatial imagery shows western North Dakota as bright as a major metropolitan area like New York.

While we proudly point to reports that show North Dakota on top for economic growth, we seem content to turn our heads and ignore natural gas flaring. By allowing ongoing flaring, we’re contributing to a growing problem and accounting for more than 1/4 of the U.S. total for flared natural gas. By flaring this gas, we’re missing out on economic opportunity, and we’re being wasteful of the environment, energy, and resources.

I’ve proposed legislation this session to curb natural gas flaring in North Dakota. SB 2315 would limit natural gas flaring on oil wells to one year; it would eliminate the ability of oil companies to apply for and be granted essentially blanket waivers to continue to flare natural gas.

Capturing and utilizing the flared natural gas will provide revenue to oil companies, payments to royalty owners, and to the State. Natural gas capturing technologies are economical and available today.

More than 30 percent of the natural gas produced from the oil fields is either vented or burned off and wasted each day. That natural gas could heat 500,000 homes.

The oil industry is making investments in pipelines and other natural gas gathering and processing infrastructure in western North Dakota. But we can and should do better.

The rest of the United States and countries around the world are watching the oil boom unfold in North Dakota. We’re emerging as a leader and looked to as a model for economic success. This blessing has its responsibilities. Capturing and utilizing flared natural gas is a common sense strategy that is good for economic growth, creating jobs, and avoiding waste. North Dakota needs to lead by example.