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Oil industry works to reduce flaring in North Dakota

Oil producers and midstream companies are working to add infrastructure in North Dakota so more natural gas is captured for sale rather than being burned off.
BY JAY F. MARKS Modified: July 30, 2013 at 8:00 pm •  Published: July 29, 2013

On the heels of a report indicating oil producers in North Dakota wasted about $1 billion worth of natural gas last year, industry officials said they are working to reduce flaring.

Producers resort to flaring, or burning off natural gas, in North Dakota's sprawling Bakken Shale play because the state does not have adequate midstream infrastructure to get it to market.

The Bakken has developed as an oil play, propelling North Dakota to its current status as the United States' No. 2 oil producer, so it doesn't have a lot of natural gas infrastructure, officials said.

A report issued Monday by sustainability advocate Ceres shows flaring has more than doubled over the past two years in North Dakota.

“In 2012 alone, flaring resulted in the loss of approximately $1 billion in fuel and the GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions equivalent of adding one million cars to the road,” the report states.

Jeff Hume, vice chairman of strategic growth initiatives at Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources Inc., said the Ceres report misrepresents what is happening in North Dakota by using “alarmist” statistics about how much natural gas is being flared.

“I think everybody's working pretty hard to bring this product to market,” he said.

Hume said such efforts are necessary because pipelines are the only way to get natural gas to market. It can't be trucked like oil.

Oil production skyrocketed to a record 810,000 barrels a day in May, bringing with it a bounty of natural gas, according to the North Dakota Industrial Commission's department of mineral resources.

“This gas is produced along with the oil,” agency spokeswoman Alison Ritter said.

The Ceres report cites data from the state indicating nearly 30 percent of the natural gas being produced in North Dakota is being flared.

Ritter said everyone agrees that figure it too high, so producers and midstream companies are working together to connect wells with pipeline systems that can carry that natural gas to market.

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