EIA Report: Flaring in North Dakota Dramatically Decreases as Natural Gas Production Grows

Newly released data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows a dramatic decrease in the use of flaring in North Dakota over the past two years at the same time natural gas production in the state has been skyrocketing. As EIA reports:

“The volume of North Dakota’s natural gas production that is flared has fallen sharply in both absolute and percentage terms since 2014. In March 2016, 10% of North Dakota’s total natural gas production was flared, less than one-third of the January 2014 flaring rate, which was at 36%. Flaring rates and volumes have significantly decreased as North Dakota’s total natural gas production has continued to grow, setting a monthly total natural gas production record of 1.71 billion cubic feet per day in March 2016.” (Emphasis added)

The following EIA graphics illustrate these trends, which the report notes — not surprisingly — is the direct result of installation of new infrastructure such as pipelines, which has allowed more natural gas to be brought to market.

This EIA graphic shows that flaring in North Dakota fell to 10 percent of total natural gas production in March.

This EIA graphic shows that flaring in North Dakota fell to 10 percent of total natural gas production in March.


The news will come as a blow to activist groups who have long made the Bakken the poster child of their campaign for federal regulations on flaring by claiming the practice was being excessively, and unnecessarily used, in North Dakota. A recent “report” by the Union of Concerned Scientists used three-year-old data to support its call for an all-out ban on flaring, claiming, “low natural gas prices make the collection of natural gas a low priority for well operators.” But the new EIA data confirms infrastructure was actually the issue early on in the Bakken, and that issue is being addressed. Nearly $13 billion has been spent on natural gas transportation and storing infrastructure since 2006, including gathering lines, processing plants and export pipelines to capture, transfer and store natural gas. The EIA report takes note of this progress:

“Most North Dakota oil and natural gas production is in the Bakken formation, a relatively new production area that has lacked sufficient natural gas pipeline infrastructure. As new infrastructure has been built, more of the Bakken region’s natural gas production has been brought to market, reducing the volume of flared natural gas despite much higher production.”

Also to activists’ chagrin, use of flaring in North Dakota has been declining at an even faster pace than established targets set by North Dakota’s Industrial Commission (NDIC) in 2015, as the following EIA graphic demonstrates:

This EIA graphic shows natural gas flaring history and future targets.

This EIA graphic shows natural gas flaring history and future targets.

The EIA report confirms industry is already exceeding the NDIC’s requirement that 85 percent of natural gas be captured by the fourth quarter of this year, and is also on pace to meet a new requirement that 95 percent be captured by 2020.

This is just the latest positive news on the Bakken, coming a few weeks after study found methane emissions from the region are not only significantly lower than a 2014 satellite study that anti-fracking activists touted, they are also far lower than previous EPA estimates, according to the researchers’ own assessment and EID research.

As EID has highlighted before, flaring is an important safety measure that follows a highly regulated, closely managed process used as a means of converting methane into CO2 and water, in turn producing far less emissions than venting the methane into the air.

Though an essential component of oil and gas development, industry – contrary to activist claims – has no interest in using flaring any more than is absolutely necessary. This new EIA data illustrates this fact, showing as more and more infrastructure necessary to capture and transport natural gas is put in place in the Bakken, flaring in North Dakota continues to decline dramatically.

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