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.

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Laura Finley
After the Parkland Shooting … Teach Youth About Dating Violence
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Robert Koehler
The Cheapening of Human Life
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Ted Rall
Never Mind Millennial Apathy, Here’s Generation Z Inbox x
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail