The Wall St. Journal recently reported on the high rate at which excess natural gas from wells in North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation is burned off, or “flared.” The Journal cited state data indicating 10.3 billion cubic feet (BCF) of gas were flared there during April 2014. That represented 30% of total gas production in the state for the month.
North Dakota’s governor attributed the high volume of gas flared in his state to the great speed at which the Bakken shale has been developed, outpacing gas recovery efforts. Oil output ramped up from 200,000 barrels per day five years ago to just over a million today, in a region lacking the dense oil and gas infrastructure of Texas and other states with a legacy of high production.
Nor is this situation unique to the Bakken. The World Bank has estimated that around 14 BCF of gas is flared every day, globally. Such flaring is a problem for more than governments and other mineral-rights owners that worry about missing potential royalties. Aside from our natural aversion to waste, flaring natural gas has environmental consequences.