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Sen. Tim Mathern, Published February 13 2013

Letter: Economic opportunities lost by continued flaring of ND gas

If you take a drive through western North Dakota or look at satellite images from outer space, you’ll quickly see the changes brought on by the Bakken oil boom. While North Dakota relishes in the economic bounty of the oil boom, some negative effects are being seen and felt in western North Dakota. One of them – natural gas flaring – we can and should readily address.

The flames from the natural gas flares can be seen for miles and light up the sky. The spacial imagery shows western North Dakota as bright as a major metropolitan area.

While we proudly point to the reports that show North Dakota on top for economic growth and other ratings, we seem content to just turn our heads and ignore that by allowing natural gas flaring, we’re contributing to a growing problem and accounting for more than a quarter of the U.S. total for flared natural gas. By flaring this gas, we’re missing out on economic opportunity, and we’re being environmentally wasteful.

I’ve proposed legislation this session to curb natural gas flaring in North Dakota. SB 2315 would limit natural gas flaring on oil wells to one year and eliminate the ability for oil companies to apply for and be granted essentially blanket waivers to continue to flare natural gas.

Capturing and utilizing the flared natural gas will provide additional revenue to oil companies, payments to royalty owners and revenue for the state of North Dakota. Natural gas capturing technologies are economical and available today.

As it stands, more than 30 percent of the natural gas produced from the oil fields is either vented or burned off and wasted each day. That natural gas could heat 500,000 homes.

To their credit, the oil industry is making investments in pipelines and other natural gas gathering and processing infrastructure in western North Dakota. But we can and should do better.

The rest of the United States and countries around the world are watching the oil boom unfold in North Dakota. We’re emerging as a leader and looked to as a model for economic success. This blessing has its responsibilities. Capturing and utilizing flared natural gas is a common-sense strategy that is good for economic growth, creating jobs and avoiding waste. North Dakota needs to lead by example.

Mathern, D-Fargo, has served District 11 in the North Dakota Senate since 1986.