In North Dakota, an oil well leaking natural gas is allowed by law to flare that gas for one year, if they have been unable to connect to a market. They are allowed extra time with waiver approval by the state Industrial Commission. Those waivers are part of the reason the oil industry has been unable to reach the goals set by the Industrial Commission itself. In 2018, 20% of gas produced in the state was lost through flaring. That was enough to heat more than 4 million homes.

Photo by Jan Swenson

Photo by Jan Swenson

Sen. Tim Mathern’s SB 2332 aimed to reduce flaring not through additional regulation but through economics. Companies could still seek and receive waivers to continue flaring, but they could not evade paying royalties and taxes due on the wasted gas after the first year. In Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee the idea was supported by the Dakota Resource Council among others. It was opposed by ND Petroleum Council, though their speaker Ron Ness acknowledged a preference for the Mathern approach over stricter regulation.

Committee chair Jessica Unruh and lone Democrat-NPL member Merrill Piepkorn supported the idea, but it received a 4-2 do not pass recommendation. Judging the bill’s prospects as doubtful in the full Senate, it was amended to a resolution to study the matter in the 2019-20 interim. That didn’t work either and the amended bill failed 15-32.

Simultaneously, Rep. Vicki Steiner approached flaring from another perspective. She never used the word. Her HB 1480 attempted to create a larger local market for natural gas primarily through converting the state fleet to natural gas and establishing regional fueling stations. It followed a model from Oklahoma and carried a fiscal note of zero by funding the investments through fees assessed on flaring. Amended into a study without appropriation, Steiner’s bill passed the House 87-3. The Senate treated it worse than Mathern’s bill, killing it 13-33.

A third bill SB 2344 touched on the topic of flaring gas in an attempt to allow natural gas to be re-injected into subsurface “pore space.” Sponsored by Sen. Unruh and GOP colleagues it declared that it was “a valid exercise of the state’s police powers to discourage the flaring of natural gas without hindering the continued exploration and production of oil and gas resources.” The bill also mentioned “greenhouse gas emissions” and used the phrase “geologic storage” in regards to both gas and carbon dioxide. With geologic storage amended out, SB 2344 passed the Senate unanimously. The House amended it further and after seven costume changes it emerged as a bill that did not mention natural gas or greenhouse gases. It simply defined landowners inability to prevent injection of carbon dioxide for secondary and tertiary recovery of oil. The bill passed the House 66-24, the Senate 34-12 on largely party line votes and was signed by Gov. Burgum.