North Dakota leaders approve revisions to flaring policy

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s Industrial Commission on Tuesday approved a revised gas capture policy that aims to encourage investment in infrastructure but doesn’t change targets for burning excess natural gas at well heads.

Current gas capture policy requires companies to capture 88% of the Bakken natural gas they produce. The target increases to 91% on Nov. 1. The remainder of the gas is burned off in a practice known as flaring, which releases carbon dioxide emissions that worsen global warming.

State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said the Oil and Gas Division has “relaxed the policy slightly in a few places and tightened it significantly in other places” after months of consultation with industry and environmental groups, The Bismarck Tribune reported.

The changes approved unanimously aim to ensure industry compliance with flaring regulations amid future gas production growth, the commission said.

“We believe that the revisions that we’ve made to the gas capture policy are the right step at the right time, but I do think every two or three years, we are going to have to look at this thing and modify it as time goes on,” Helms told the three-member, all-Republican panel chaired by Gov. Doug Burgum.

Helms said future gas capture requires “a monumental effort” and billions of dollars in infrastructure such as natural gas processing plants and pipelines. North Dakota's gas production is projected to hit 5.3 billion cubic feet a day 18 years from now. The state produced a record of more than 3.1 billion cubic feet per day in November 2019.

Companies have met or exceeded gas capture goals in recent months, largely due to decreased production amid the coronavirus pandemic and several new processing facilities and expansions coming online in the last year, North Dakota Pipeline Authority Director Justin Kringstad said.

The policy includes several exceptions for companies that flare natural gas under certain circumstances, such as gas plant outages or delays securing a right-of-way for pipeline construction. Mineral Resources spokeswoman Katie Haarsager said the revised policy should clarify how the variances in the calculation are applied.