FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Record 36% of North Dakota Fracked Gas Flared in December

by STEVE HORN

The recent March 6 House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing titled “Benefits of and Challenges to Energy Access in the 21st Century: Fuel Supply and Infrastructure” never had over 100 online viewers watching the livestream at any point in time. And it unfolded in an essentially empty room.

But the poor attendance record had no relation to the gravity of the facts presented by testifiers. Among other things, one presenter revealed 36 percent of the gas by-product from oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin was flared off as waste during a brutally cold midwest winter with no end in sight.

These damning facts were brought forward by Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (Ceres) Oil & Gas and Insurance Programs Director Andrew Logan, one of eight people called to testify around topics ranging from domestic propane markets to fossil fuels-by-rail markets, to pipeline markets and flaring.

A topic covered previously by DeSmogBlog, Logan submitted to the Subcommittee that flaring “is getting worse, not better.”

“Flaring in North Dakota hit 36% in December, a new record,” Logan told the subcommittee. “This means that more than 1/3 of all natural gas produced in the state is going up in smoke, at the same time as consumers around the country are seeing price spikes from natural gas in this cold winter, along with actual shortages of propane in many places.”

Logan also said that wasteful flaring is also a growing quagmire in Texas, which has seen a 10-fold increase in flaring permits since 2010.

At least one influential Subcommittee member has taken notice.

U.S. Rep. Waxman: Flaring “Wasteful and Unnecessary”

During the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) chimed in with his thoughts on flaring, calling for a follow-up hearing to focus exclusively on this issue.

“The wasteful and unnecessary flaring of natural gas is a serious problem and has no place in a modern energy infrastructure. I believe the Subcommittee should a hearing to get the facts regarding flaring and to develop real solutions to the problem,” said Waxman.

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Logan said he believed that a hearing on this issue would go a long way toward tackling the flaring problem.

“Flaring, at least at the level we are currently seeing in the Bakken, is so obviously indefensible that simply shining a light on the problem should get us well on the way to a solution,” said Logan. “That being said, the Republicans obviously control the House — and therefore the subject of hearings at present — and so I don’t know how likely it is that we will see hearings anytime soon.”

“Wasteful” is an understatement given how much gas is flared off in the Bakken Shale. The amount flared off could heat over half a million homes per day, according to a New York Times investigation.

“In 2012 alone, flaring resulted in the loss of approximately $1 billion in fuel and the GHG emissions equivalent of adding one million cars to the road,” explained Ceres’ July 2013 report titled, “Flaring up: North Dakota Natural Gas Flaring More Than Doubles in Two Years.”

According to World Bank data, the U.S. is now one of the top five flarers in the world.

So, what’s being wasted? Not just methane gas, but also “rich [and] valuable natural gas liquids like propane and butane [which are] about the last gas you would want to flare,” according to Logan’s testimony.

The propane is being flared at the same time North and South Dakota face a propane crisis and accompanying price spike.

“In North and South Dakota, the shortage has become so acute that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has opened shelters to serve its population, most of whom rely on propane,” explained The New York Times.

Logan says the situation in the Dakotas epitomizes why strong federal regulations are needed.

“It’s outrageous that propane is being flared off as a waste product when Dakotans are shivering in the cold due to artificial propane shortages,” he said. “The only real solution is regulation that forces the industry to curtail flaring once and for all.”

“Flaring in North Dakota will only be solved when the regulatory structure changes so that flaring is no longer the easiest option. For that to change, the incentive structure needs to change.”

Why Flare? Profits

At the hearing, Waxman asked Logan why he thinks companies choose to flare at all.

“Well, it’s really all about the relative economics and also the state of regulation in places like North Dakota. So while it’s profitable to capture the gas, it’s more profitable to drill the next oil well,” Logan testified. “So if you’re an oil company with a limited amount of money to spend — as they all are — it’s a somewhat rational short-term choice to say, ‘Well look, if I don’t have to capture that gas, I’d rather spend that money to drill another well.'”

“We think in the long-term that’s very short-sighted and a waste of the value of that resource, but you can kind of see why the market is pushing companies in that direction.”

This short-term, profit motive was echoed by an oil and gas industry representative in a September 2011 story appearing in The New York Times.

“I’ll tell you why people flare: It’s cheap,” Troy Anderson, lead operator of a North Dakota gas-processing plant owned by Whiting Petroleum told The Times. “Pipelines are expensive: You have to maintain them. You need permits to build them. They are a pain.”

It also helps the industry that the head of North Dakota’s oil and gas regulatory body — the Department of Mineral Resources — is headed by Lynn Helms, a former employee of industry giants Texaco and Hess.

“Bakken…not going anywhere”

Logan and the over 100 members managing the more than $11 trillion Ceres represents argue that a time-out is needed to determine how to develop the Bakken more strategically.

“The Bakken formation has been around for 360 million years. It’s not going anywhere. If it takes a little extra time to develop the resource in a thoughtful and deliberate way, it seems to me we should strongly encourage that,” said Logan in his concluding remarks to the Subcommittee.

Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece first appeared.

Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece first appeared.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail