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Poll finds support for tougher flaring rules in North Dakota

BISMARCK — A North Dakota poll commissioned by two environmental watchdog groups finds that a majority of residents wants more stringent rules for flaring natural gas from oil wells.

The Dakota Resource Council and the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club hired the Social Science Research Institute at the University of North Dakota to learn how residents feel about paying mineral owners for flared gas and about rules for how long companies can legally flare their gas.

The poll of 901 residents on cellphones and landlines found that 65 percent think mineral owners should be paid for wasted gas, rather than allowing oil companies to obtain exemptions and waivers to continue flaring.

The groups say the poll also found that 58 percent of those polled support withholding drilling permits until companies show plans to capture and market gas.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission recently moved to change its flaring policy, limiting legal flare time to 90 days instead of one year. The Senate took out the 90 days and the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee was asked to restore the shorter flaring window in committee Thursday.

“The Senate actually went backwards,” said Don Morrison, director of Dakota Resource Council. “Unfortunately, they were listening to the powerful oil industry lobby rather than the people here who want to have oil development without as much damage to our state and other people in the process. The least we should do this session is to have oil companies meet their obligations for the gas they waste.”

The Oil and Gas Division reported Thursday that new numbers show 22 percent is flared.

“That compares with 1 or 2 percent in most other states,” said Wayde Schafer, conservation organizer for the Dacotah Chapter. “The Legislature should be working to reduce flaring, rather than taking a shot at the Industrial Commission.”