I don’t think anyone likes flaring, which is the burning off of natural gas from oil wells (right now 30% of the natural gas produced in the Bakken is flared). Environmentalists don’t like it because of the emissions. The oil companies and the capitalists don’t like it because natural gas is valuable, and if there’s one thing we can all agree about when it comes to oil companies and capitalists it’s that they like making money.
So finding a way to stop flaring in the Bakken oil fields, which you can see from space these days, isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But Senator Tim Mathern’s bill, SB2315, is the wrong way to go about doing it.
The bill would limit flaring on any given oil well to no more than one year. Currently the State Industrial Commission has been approving flaring exemptions for the oil industry. This bill would end that, setting the one year limit in stone.
But here’s the problem: It’s not like the oil industry wants to flare the gas. They’d rather capture it, and sell it, but what’s holding them back is infrastructure. And what’s holding infrastructure back is government red tape and an eminent domain process that is arduous (and rightfully so). It can, and does, take years to build the sort of pipeline infrastructure necessarily to capture natural gas and bring it to market. Implementing a one year window for connecting any given well to that infrastructure puts oil producers between a rock and a hard place. So much so that it’s a real possibility oil production could be held up for want of natural gas infrastructure.
Which is no doubt why radical environmental groups like the Dakota Resource Council testified in favor of this bill in Bismarck this week. Because they know the obstacles it would represent to oil production.
We should take a positive approach to curbing flaring. Rather than putting restrictions in place, perhaps we should find out what roadblocks are in the way of capturing the gas and have the government work to remove them.