BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A group representing hundreds of companies working in North Dakota's oil patch told state regulators on Wednesday that the industry plans to significantly decrease the amount of natural gas being burned off and wasted as a byproduct of oil production.
The North Dakota Petroleum Council's flaring task force told the Industrial Commission that at least $1.7 billion more will be invested over the next two years into building gas pipelines and other infrastructure. It expects the industry to be capturing 85 percent of the gas by 2016, and 90 percent within six years.
"We think that's achievable," Eric Dille, the task force's co-chairman, told The Associated Press.
North Dakota drillers currently burn off, or flare, about 30 percent of the valuable gas — compared to the national average of less than 1 percent — because development of gas pipelines and processing facilities haven't kept pace with oil drilling. The state's oil production has nearly doubled since 2012.
Dill said the expected reduction in flared natural gas will also come from additional self-imposed steps by the industry, such as submitting plans for natural gas gathering before applying for a drilling permit. He noted that the industry has already invested more than $6 billion in infrastructure to capture natural gas in the past six years.
Still, records show that about 300 million cubic feet of natural gas goes up in smoke each day in North Dakota. That's enough to heat more than 1 million homes daily. Flaring also accounts for about 5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Dille, also the government affairs manager for Houston-based EOG Resources Inc., said the task force — made up of 35 industry representatives — has met more than 20 times since September to develop a plan.
Wayde Schafer, a North Dakota spokesman for the Sierra Club and an outspoken critic of natural gas flaring, applauded the plan.
"I commend the industry," he said. "It's better late than never."
The percentage of flared natural gas in North Dakota has remained at about one-third of production in recent years, though the overall volume has dramatically increased.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple said the goals outlined by the task force were "very encouraging." Dalrymple is chairman of the Industrial Commission, which regulates North Dakota's oil and gas industry; Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring are its other members.