A new report finds a staggering 1/3 of natural gas produced in the rich Bakken shale region of North Dakota is being burned off into the air. The flared gas is valued at more than $100 million a month.
Remote well locations and a lack of adequate pipeline infrastructure are the major forces behind the problem. The historically low price of natural gas isn’t helping, although producers agree that wasted product at any price is still lost money.
Flaring is a more environmentally-friendly process than simply releasing the gas into the air, but the amount flared is so high the light can be seen from space, rivaling the light visible from mid-size cities. Flaring has tripled in the last three years, as the region continues to be a major source of success for producers.
New infrastructure is being built. Alliance Pipeline is working on a 79-mile pipeline to carry Bakken gas to the company’s larger, interstate pipeline. Hess Corp. is working to double the capacity of its processing plant in Tioga, ND. In 2011, roughly 2,300 miles of new pipeline were installed in the region, but a lot more is needed.
In the meantime, some drillers are already making promises to taper flaring practices, and end them completely when possible. Continental Resources, the region’s second-largest operator, declared intentions in March to reduce flaring as much as possible.
9,000 wells operate in the Bakken shale region. That number is expected to grow quickly, hitting 50,000 within the next 17 years.