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Other Views: North Dakota flaring initiative looks good

An initiative by the oil and gas industry to reduce natural gas flaring at well sites in North Dakota’s Bakken oil play looks very promising. Working with the state Industrial Commission, other state agencies, the Legislature, landowners and tribal interests, the industry is bringing together companies in what is described as an unprecedented cooperative effort.

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The aim is to reduce the loss of natural gas to flaring by capturing 85 percent within two years, 90 percent in six years, and as much as 95 percent in the not-too-distant future. The goals seem ambitious, but the plans to achieve them are based on good science, good industry practices and a desire to reduce flaring, which has become a national issue (some say embarrassment) for North Dakota.

Currently about 30 percent of natural gas is flared, which as a percentage is slightly down, but in terms of the actual volume of flared gas is up (more wells, more gas). The challenges to capture nearly all of that gas in the next few years are daunting, but not impossible. Success will require a comprehensive program that includes new pipelines, new and expanded processing plants and policies to enhance right of way access for pipelines. All are opportunities to not only bring more gas and byproducts to market, but also to put in place a reliable system of pipelines, processing plants and regulations that deal with natural gas production for a long time.

In order to make progress, all stakeholders must be on board. That factor makes the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s Flaring Task Force a unique model. Hundreds of companies — some that had doubts about the effort — are coming together to reduce flaring. The council said it is rare for competing industries to “work holistically” in such a way because many of them are “fierce competitors.” Thus far, that rather high hurdle has been cleared, and progress toward a workable flaring-reduction strategy is being made.

That’s good news. A sincere industry-led capture effort is a better option than after-the-fact regulation and sanctions. There is a regulatory provision in the mix, but it would kick in only if bad actors violate provisions of the flaring-reduction accord. It’s a good balance, a good start.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead’s Editorial Board formed this opinion.