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Trickling away: Multiple voices express concern over lost gas on federal lands

An environmental organization, western North Dakota Native Americans and a taxpayer watchdog group are all calling on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to create stricter rules for capturing natural gas during oil production on federal and tribal lands.

The BLM is expected to soon propose such a rule, which would include a public comment period.

Dakota Resource Council Executive Director Don Morrison said the main effect of the new BLM rule would be establishing fairness in tallying royalties.

“They need to be counted accurately on federal lands,” he said.

While North Dakota has laws requiring industry operators in the Bakken to capture 85 percent of their gas, Morrison said there are no such regulations on federal lands.

Consequently, he said royalties that could go to the state and federal governments are lost, and taxpayers don’t reap the benefits.

The DRC and federal budget watchdog organization Taxpayers for Common Sense urged the North Dakota political leaders Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven, Rep. Kevin Cramer and Gov. Jack Dalrymple to push the BLM to release the rule in an open letter sent out Tuesday.

A separate op-ed co-authored by Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights (POWER) and Mandaree resident Joletta Bird Bear, which was published in Thursday’s Press, lent grievance to the amount of natural gas wasted on tribal land without its residents receiving benefit from it.

In its release, the DRC and Taxpayers for Common Sense listed Office of Natural Resource Revenue data that stated the amount of gas that has been flared or vented on federal lands nationwide increased from 23.7 billion cubic feet in 2006 to 66 billion cubic feet in 2014.

It also stated that all the gas that went unmarked in that time period in North Dakota -- 173 billion cubic feet flared or vented, plus 42.7 billion cubic feet consumed by operators -- would have roughly totalled $127.9 million in royalties, half of which it said would have gone to the state government.

There are no statistics on vented gas, which is allowed on federal lands but illegal on non-federal land in the state.

“The BLM has a responsibility to do a good job,” Morrison said.

The op-ed authored by Fort Berthold POWER and Bird Bear stated that valuable potential royalties for the Three Affiliated Tribes were being lost to flaring, venting and leakage each year, and that the tribes had the power to hire gas mitigation companies that are already based in the state.

There is also an environmental cost from toxins and ozone-degrading benzene that come from gas released into the atmosphere, it read. The statement also called on the BLM to create a strong rule that would enforce gas loss curtailments in an effective way.

“Oil and gas companies fail to pay royalties on wasted natural gas from flaring, venting or leaks,” it read. “Those energy resources belong to the Three Affiliated Tribes, and that waste needs to stop.”

Alison Ritter, a spokesperson for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said Thursday that the department would agree to any rule on gas capture proposed by the BLM, so long as it runs consistent with recommendations it gave during a BLM meeting on gas capture regulations for non-federal lands in the state in May 2014.

Kari Cutting, vice president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said the industry is already committed to capturing gas due to its value as a commodity.

She said it has worked to acquire 86 percent gas capture since 2014.

“This is in everybody’s purview,” Cutting said.

Representatives from neither the Taxpayers for Common Sense nor the Fort Berthold Reservation could immediately be reached for additional comment Thursday.

Andrew Wernette

Wernette came to The Dickinson Press from his home state of Michigan in April 2015 as reporter for the newspaper's energy, political, crime, courts and cops beats. Before The Press, Wernette worked at his university's newspaper as a section editor, as well as interned at a local county paper as a reporter. Outside of work, he enjoys reading, writing, cooking, taking a stroll and planning his next world travel adventure.

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