WILLISTON - Sen. Heidi Heitkamp emphasized the importance of continued investment to capture North Dakota’s natural gas during a tour Friday of a gas processing facility near Williston.

“If there’s one issue out here that has garnered a lot of attention, it’s gas flaring,” Heitkamp said.

Heitkamp, D-N.D., met with representatives from ONEOK Partners to discuss the company’s expansion plans in North Dakota and tour the Stateline I and II natural gas processing plants.

In 2013, ONEOK connected more than 1,000 new wells to pipelines that capture natural gas, and the company expects to connect the same number of wells this year, said Craig Forsander, vice president for ONEOK Rockies Midstream Operations.

That means that on average, the company connects three new wells every day and lays two miles of gathering pipeline every day, Forsander said.

ONEOK’s current North Dakota facilities, which can process 415 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, are either at capacity or near capacity, Forsander said.

Expansion plans in the Williston Basin, estimated to cost between $650 million and $780 million, will increase processing capacity to 800 million cubic feet per day by 2015.

North Dakota has been flaring nearly one-third of the natural gas produced in the state as natural gas pipelines, processing plants and other infrastructure catch up with the growth in production.

Working with landowners to secure rights of way for pipelines is a big challenge, Forsander said.

Keeping up with demand is another challenge. It takes about two years to plan and construct a natural gas processing plant and one year to plan and construct a compressor station, he said.

“The challenges are many, but they’re going to be even more severe if we don’t get ahead of it,” Heitkamp said.

Heitkamp commended ONEOK for the level of long-term commitment in North Dakota. Of the company’s announced investments through 2016 of $6 billion to $6.4 billion, more than $3 billion is dedicated to growth projects in the Williston Basin.

“It’s pretty impressive,” Heitkamp said. “They know this is going to be a long-term play.”

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