Exploring Hydrocarbon Depletion
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Page added on December 23, 2012
The Bakken oil shale drilling provides immense opportunities as well as challenges for North Dakota. It’s a huge domestic energy resource and creates new jobs, wealth, tax revenues and growth.
At the same time, there are enormous community costs and social disruptions, not to mention air and water pollution potentially harming human health, ecological safety, farming and the tourism and outdoor recreation economies in the North Dakota.
There is no “magic bullet” solution for all problems. But there are focused and strategic actions that could serve North Dakota and our nation well.
Capturing the massive amounts of natural gas being flared from the Bakken wells is a common-sense strategy that would be good for growth, creating jobs, avoiding waste and protecting the environment.
In addition, this solution can generate wealth and bring people and businesses together for shared success.
Too many Bakken oil drilling companies still are flaring off natural gas while they extract oil. That lights up the western North Dakota sky and produces one of the nation’s largest cumulative sources of carbon pollution and other harmful air contaminants.
Furthermore, this wasteful practice can be avoided. The gas being flared has real value in the energy markets, and there are technologies and equipment that can capture the gas and send it through pipelines to power fertilizer factories, heat homes and businesses and run power plants to generate electricity.
Statoil, for example, is also starting to use captured natural gas from flares to help power local drilling rigs and generators, thus reducing its diesel fuel costs.
Why waste this very valuable energy resource? Why not both avoid pollution and create economic value, jobs and business growth for North Dakotans?
Why should landowners miss out on royalty payments, and North Dakota lose gross production tax revenues?
The North Dakota Industrial Commission has standards requiring oil drilling businesses to capture flared natural gas within a year of beginning operations unless it’s not economically feasible. But over the course of 2011 and 2012, the commission has waived this requirement more than 200 times.
This failure to consistently implement the state’s own standards costs us money and opportunities.
Some Bakken oil drilling companies are capturing their flared natural gas. They understand the economic value. They want a level playing field for all drilling companies.
They are looking for more natural gas plants and a better gas pipeline infrastructure system to transport the natural gas from the oil fields to factories, power plants and homes.
The human and ecological health harms from pollution, the costs to farmers and ranchers and the impacts of air and water pollution on Theodore Roosevelt National Park and elsewhere are too big to miss. They won’t just disappear.
Now, here are some constructive solutions:
• Let’s stop wasting natural gas resources. Let’s require all Bakken oil drilling companies to follow North Dakota law by applying modern technologies to capture the flare gases, avoid pollution and deliver the gas into pipelines or use it for electricity generation and other purposes.
If there’s a strong showing that this isn’t economically feasible, so be it. But waivers should be the exception rather than the rule.
• Let’s ask the UND, North Dakota State University or another expert agency to quantify the benefits of capturing natural gas, benefits such as job creation, business growth, tax payments and cleaner air.
These benefits are real, not theoretical. The state’s entrepreneurial centers should focus on the new business opportunities that can use this natural gas and its byproducts.
• Let’s bring together the key stakeholders such as drilling and pipeline companies, electricity co-ops, farm groups, tourism bureaus and economic development agencies to develop shared solutions and implement them quickly.
It’s time to seize the opportunities to create jobs, economic growth, ecological benefits and more wealth by capturing wasted flared natural gases from the Bakken oil fields.
Learner is executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an environmental and economic development advocacy organization with offices in Chicago and Jamestown, N.D., as well as Des Moines, Madison, Wis., Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, S.D.