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State, Federal Regulations Ease on ND Methane Flaring

The North Dakota oil and gas industry has failed to meet flaring capture goals five months in a row. (Western Organization of Resource Councils)
The North Dakota oil and gas industry has failed to meet flaring capture goals five months in a row. (Western Organization of Resource Councils)
December 5, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. - With the state's recent decision to relax methane-flaring regulations and the federal government deferring to states, North Dakota regulations are moving away from the rest of the country.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission voted to stay on its current track and increase gas-capture goals from 85 percent to 88 percent in January, but has added wiggle room for oil and gas producers to meet that goal. The industry has failed to meet the current capture goal five months in a row.

With the Bureau of Land Management's decision to rescind Obama-era flaring rules, Joel Minor, senior associate attorney with Earthjustice, said it's the state's prerogative to come up with its own guidelines.

"Those state flaring standards in North Dakota are really the only applicable standards for flaring right now," he said, "because the Bureau of Land Management has said that complying with the state flaring standards counts as complying with the federal standards as well."

Standards vary greatly between states and tribes. Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of such groups as the Western Organizations of Resource Councils and Fort Berthold POWER against BLM for rescinding the methane-flaring rules. The Interior Department has said the Obama-era regulations were too burdensome on the industry.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has proposed scaling back methane regulations for new operations on private lands. In November, the agency held a single public meeting on the proposal in Denver, attracting people from across the country, including Lisa Deville, president of Fort Berthold POWER in western North Dakota. Deville said she and her husband have felt the health effects from nearby flaring operations and traveled to Colorado to tell their story.

"I'm always anxious to do these things," she said. "So, whether the U.S. government does anything about it, I just put pressure on them to have them understand what I have to live with."

The proposal is open for public comment until Dec. 17.

North Dakota operators flared nearly 460 million cubic feet of natural gas per day in September - a record amount.

It doesn't have to be this way, said Mark Trechock, retired director of the Dakota Resource Council, adding that other states have done a better job of reining this in, such as Alaska, where flaring was prohibited in 1971.

"It's a real stark contrast between what Alaska has done, which is very thoughtful and a sensible approach," he said, "whereas North Dakota, it seems like the industry is running state policy on this."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND