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By Tie Shank 

Flaring – Oil Companies Ask the State to Allow the GCP Program Time to Run Its Course


Over 100 people attended the public hearing held on April 22 at the Department of Mineral Resources office in Bismarck, ND, many of which gave testimonials voicing their position on the North Dakota Industrial Commissions (NDIC) flaring proposal that would cut back on the state's oil production as a means of controlling excessive natural gas flaring.

The commission held the meeting in hopes of hearing from operators about the economic impacts of production curtailments and in hopes of hearing from experts on air quality.

As of February of this year, North Dakota was burning off (or flaring); an all-time high record set in September 2011, of 36 percent of the gas because processing facilities and pipeline development can't keep pace with the drilling.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council's flaring task force said the industry has invested more than $6 billion in infrastructure over the past six years to capture natural gas and is planning to spend at least $1.7 billion more over the next two years.

Joel Noyes from Hess Corporation writes, "Hess is committed to reducing natural gas flaring throughout our own operations and has a comprehensive flare-reduction program in place in North Dakota that includes gas transportation systems, compression stations, NGL loading, and the recent expansion of the Tioga gas processing plant." He later adds, "We also caution the state and the NDIC that any curtailment measures implemented too quickly can have a negative impact on an operator's business plan – affecting budgets, capital expenditures, and investments outside of normal operations. Just as the state has asked operators to engage in thoughtful and responsible planning, we also ask the state to be thoughtful and responsible with the decisions it makes in this space."

Jeremy Conger, Director of Operations for WPX Energy Williston, LLC writes, "Although we have many constraints, WPX does support the use of the Gas Capture Plan for flaring reduction." Conger says, "WPX is confident that the GCP program can be successful in reducing flaring. The NDIC should allow for the GCP program to succeed and allow time for the program to run its course before implementing curtailment measures that could reduce development commitments."

Tom Wheeler with the Northwest Landowners Association applauds the oil industry for the plan they developed to reduce the flaring of natural gas. He states, "Landowners are willing to work to find solutions that will improve landowner relations with the oil industry and to encourage the timely development of pipelines that will help reduce flaring."

Tex "Red Tipped Arrow" Hall, Chairman of the TAT – MHA Nation writes, "The MHA Nation agrees flaring of gas in the Bakken, Bakken/Three Forks and Three Forks Pools must be reduced to conserve valuable gas resources and protect our communities and our environment. However, the State must be clear where its proposed rules do and do not apply. To prevent confusion and uncertainty among the oil and gas companies investing and developing energy resources on our lands, this hearing and the future actions of the Commission must recognize that the MHA Nation is a sovereign government which enforces its own regulations and policies that apply to oil and gas resources in these pools."

Dr. Lyle Best of Watford City sums it up in two words: "Slow Down!" He and his wife live about 200 yards downwind (SE) of two wells, which he's been told will someday be 8 or 10 wells. At times, the flares from these two wells are over 20 feet high. He says the sound coming from these wells is "constant and similar to a jetliner passing nearby and the light flickers through our bedroom window."

Dr. Best is annoyed that "these two flares have burned off over 60 million cubic feet of natural gas in the past six months and are continuously wasting enough energy to heat hundreds of homes, at the same time that many people in our country are sleeping on the street, and at least one North Dakotan died of hypothermia this winter when they were unable to pay for much more expensive propane. This doesn't even address the issue of carbon dioxide and other pollutants being poured into the atmosphere."

In an email to this author, Alison Ritter, Public Information Officer of the Department of Mineral Resources wrote, "There are no more hearings or meetings scheduled. An order, with a recommendation is expected to be brought to the North Dakota Industrial Commission in the next 30 or 60 days."

The Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms, says that once the order is put in to place, it will have the force of law.


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