Flared up: Fort Berthold concerns voiced at flaring forum in Dickinson
The desire to slow down oil production, especially on the Fort Berthold Reservation, was a top demand at a flaring forum on Friday.
BLM regulates drilling on federal lands and on the Fort Berthold Reservation, where nearly 30 percent of North Dakota’s oil production takes place.
Current regulations are more than 30 years old, Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor told the crowd, “and a lot has changed in that time.”Connor and BLM Deputy Director Linda Lance repeatedly said the BLM will take into account existing regulations, on a federal level with the Environmental Protection Agency, and on a state level, including rules that will soon take effect to reduce flaring.Many who shared comments said with multi-well pads becoming more common and the Bakken in general shifting to full-field development, the flaring problem will only get worse unless BLM takes action in lowering the bar as to how long and how much flaring is allowed, and follows through with tough enforcement. Right now, operators have a royalty-free year to implement an action plan to eliminate flaring.Tribal advocate Theodora Bird Bear said with the BLM understaffed for enforcement and with dangers of oil production like flaring, “it would seem common sense that BLM would institute a slowdown in this application process.”Pat Wilson, a member of the Billings, Mont.-based Northern Plains Resource Council, suggested “everybody takes a deep breath” to allow time for regulations to catch up with production.Lynn Helms, director of North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources, made sure the state-level efforts against flaring weren’t forgotten, and testified about new rules, including that operators must submit Gas Capture Plans along with Applications for Permits to Drill starting June 1.With that date approaching, the DMR also sent out a letter Friday to operators reminding them of the new requirements and also of the penalties for not falling into line.In the letter, DMR Permit Manager Todd Holweger wrote that failure to adapt to the new efforts to reduce flaring could lead to delayed permit consideration or even restrictions on production — the last thing operators want.For industry, North Dakota Petroleum Council Vice President Kari Cutting brought up the industry’s flaring task force, which made regulatory recommendations to the state with a goal of capturing 90 to 95 percent of gas by 2020.Some attendees brought up health concerns with flaring emissions, but BLM representatives said air emissions are the EPA’s domain and reiterated BLM’s focus on issues like lost royalties for mineral owners.With right-of-way disputes blamed by many as the biggest obstacle to laying pipelines to capture more gas, Bird Bear said the industry needs to spend more time working with the tribe — “not in a superficial way, but in a way that addresses the concerns.”About 80 people attended the same forum in Albuquerque, N.M., on Wednesday, BLM spokeswoman Beverly Winston said. Another forum is planned for Thursday in Washington, D.C.Interested parties can submit written comments to the BLM until May 30 by visiting www.blm.gov.