Women’s Council on Energy and Environment published my article on flaring of associated gas in the U.S. last week. Gas flaring is becoming a major issue for the U.S. with the rise of North Dakota’s oil production from its Bakken Shale formation, which reached 660 thousand barrels per day (bbl/d) in June 2012. Oil extraction from the Bakken Shale accounts for a substantial amount of associated gas, which is a raw natural gas released as a result of petroleum production. Natural gas is often found in oil wells, where it is either dissolved in crude oil or exists separately in a form of a cap above oil.
With a back-to-back 5 percent rise in oil output every month, North Dakota does not expect the pace of production to slow down. Rapidly growing oil production and infrastructure problems are starting to pose serious environmental challenges. The United States now ranks as one of the world’s top five flaring countries, according to the World Bank’s recent report. That is largely due to the rise in oil drilling in North Dakota. In 2011, the United States represented 5 percent of all gas flaring. Presently, most companies burn off associated gas rather than invest in pipelines and processing plants to capture and sell the gas because of added costs.
With no regulation on gas flaring at the national level, largely due to a limited flaring problem since the 1970's, it is also becoming an issue in the Eagle Ford shale field in Texas, as well as potentially in other states endowed with unconventional oil sources, such as Ohio, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Given the size of the Bakken Shale play and expansion of shale drilling in other states, the era of the U.S. unconventional oil and gas seems to portend not only massive infrastructure changes to streamline transportation of domestic crude oil and gas, but also a more careful regulation of this relatively novel industry to prevent an environmental backlash.