Jonathan Silva, Williston
Living in the Bakken, flaring is a challenge I see every day. However, we have to remember that there is no cheap, quick, or easy solution. Flaring is due to a number of factors, including the rights of landowners, sheer size of the Bakken, long winters, and federal regulation.
North Dakota law does not give an automatic right to install gathering lines across private land. The industry must negotiate with landowners one-by-one on placement, compensation, and timing. Often, landowners are unwilling to grant access for their own reasons good and bad.
Flaring is further compounded by regulations on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation, which includes some of the most productive areas of the Bakken. On the reservation, gathering lines must be approved by not only the landowner, but three federal agencies that extend the process out long after wells begin production.
I was encouraged to read the outcome of the oil industry’s task force on solving the issue. The industry set a goal of reducing flaring by 50 percent within two years and to capture 90 percent of all gas by 2020. It plans to do so by providing a Gas Capture Plan to the state for each new well, using section lines as paths for small gathering lines, and improving industry relations with landowners with a “Pipeline Hotline.” It is a plan that gives due respect to the rights of property owners.
The report addressed methods to reach beyond the 90 percent goal by utilizing technology, but while offering promise, modern technology is limited – further demonstrating the complexity of flaring. Notably, implementing every bit of available technology would fail to achieve the goals set by the task force.
This is a tough problem to balance resource utilization with landowner rights and I commend the oil industry’s effort to solve these issues with a reasonable plan.