Natural gas flaring in the Bakken "a hard problem to solve"

Nov 21, 2012

As oil production rises in the Bakken, so does the production of natural gas.

The problem is -- just over 30 percent of the natural gas produced in the Bakken is flared.

"Even though we're seeing a lot of buildout for gathering and processing gas, we are still very much in a struggle to reduce flaring in the state," said state Mineral Resource director Lynn Helms. "Once the Bakken drilling is mature, and we're producing in excess of a million barrels of oil a say, we'll also be producing well over two billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. And if we are flaring 5 to 10 percent of that, that's equal to all the gas we produced in the first five years of the 21st Century."

Helms says reducing natural gas flaring will be a struggle for some time – because it takes time to build natural gas gathering facilities and pipelines. But he says recent action by the Oil and Gas Research Council may help. The council approved a $1 million grant to a company called Enflex.

"They're going to make anhydrous ammonia from flared gas," said Helms. "They've scaled down the technology to single-well size."

Helms says if you talk to farmers, you find out that anhydrous ammonia prices are at record highs. "They're welcoming this with open arms, as are we, in an attempt to reduce the flaring number."

There are also proposals for large-scale anhydrous plants. One of them is proposed for the Jamestown area.

Helms says natural gas can be used for electricity. Earlier, GE Energy announced portable 25 megawatt generators will be used by drilling rigs in the Bakken -- to provide power until permanent sources can be connected.  And Helms says some companies are replacing diesel fuel used in the drilling rigs with natural gas. Statoil is one of the companies that's starting to make that change.

Helms says he is considering proposals for the Legislature to consider which would provide incentives to companies to decrease flaring. 

"This is going to be a hard problem to solve," he said.