Proposed flaring rule doesn’t satisfy

Both fall short, creates roadblock

File photo Gases are burned off, or flared, in the North Dakota oilfield. A proposed federal rule would attempt to address flaring during oil production associated with federal and tribal leases.

A proposed federal rule to address gas flaring on federal and tribal property falls short, according to North Dakota’s environmental advocates. Meanwhile, the state’s congressional delegation are calling the draft rule an unnecessary bureaucracy and a roadblock to energy development.

The Department of the Interior this week announced a proposed rule from the Bureau of Land Management that takes current technology into account in requiring operators of federal Indian oil and gas leases to take reasonable steps to avoid the waste of natural gas. It would charge royalties on certain flared gas but would not require flared gas to be captured and used. 

“The proposal is an important first step but falls short of President Biden’s commitment to eliminate routine venting and flaring of associated gas by 2030, a practice which wastes domestic energy resources and harms the health of surrounding communities and ecosystems,” stated the Dakota Resource Council, based in Dickinson.

Flaring is the process of burning excess natural gas at a well. Venting is the direct release of natural gas into the atmosphere.

The Department of the Interior reports the proposed rule would generate $39.8 million a year in additional royalties for the American public and prevent billions of cubic feet of gas from being wasted.

The department reported that between 2010 and 2020, the total venting and flaring reported by federal and Indian onshore lessees averaged about 44.2 billion cubic feet per year, enough to serve roughly 675,000 homes. This contrasts to an average of 11 billion cubic feet lost per year between 1990 and 2000.

“Fort Berthold Reservation, where my family and I live, is where the most flaring occurs in North Dakota, which is the state with the most flaring,” said newly elected state representative Lisa Finley-DeVille of Mandaree, who also is a Dakota Resource Council/Fort Berthold POWER board member.

“Right now we are poisoned by the toxins in flares and we are losing out on royalties from flared gas. BLM must eliminate routine venting or flaring to protect impacted communities like mine because my state and my tribal government are not protecting us,” she said in a statement Tuesday.

“The Department of the Interior’s proposed rule is nothing more than another layer of unnecessary, duplicative bureaucracy designed to impair oil and gas production on federal and tribal land,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-ND, said in a response to the department’s announcement. 

“Democrats have tried this before and courts found it illegal. Rather than trotting out another punitive measure, which will inevitably get caught up in litigation, the Biden Administration should use the authority they already possess from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to streamline permitting for gas gathering lines to reduce emissions. North Dakota producers already capture 95 percent of gas emissions, but operators on federal land are impeded by the same cumbersome bureaucracy that’s now threatening to penalize them,” he added.

The Senate passed legislation more than a year ago to ease permitting requirements for gas capture infrastructure on federal and applicable tribal lands, Cramer said. This authority remains unimplemented by the Department of the Interior, he said.

“Under this proposed rule, the Biden administration is creating another roadblock to energy development on federal lands, further undermining our nation’s energy security,” Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, said in his response. “On top of that, by holding up the infrastructure needed to get energy to market, like gas-gathering lines and pipelines, this burdensome approach to regulation is causing more flaring and methane waste, not less.”

He noted Americans are already facing record-high inflation and increased home heating costs this winter. The rule will worsen matters by making energy production more expensive, he said.

“More duplicative red tape will do nothing to keep our air and water clean,” Congressman Kelly Armstrong, R-ND, tweeted.

Mark Fox, tribal chairman for MHA Nation, welcomed discussion on the rule.

“The MHA Nation looks forward to working with the EPA to develop rules that address flaring and ensure that operators and midstream companies who transfer gas, diligently capture gas. At the same time, the EPA must respect the MHA Nation’s right to develop its trust assets of oil and gas resources, and must not unreasonably impede our rightful opportunity to promote responsible energy development,” he said.

Key elements of the proposed rule include:

 – Requires the use of “low-bleed” pneumatic equipment as well as vapor recovery for oil storage tanks, where economically feasible. 

— Requires operators to maintain a leak detection and repair program.

— Requires applicants to develop waste minimization plans demonstrating the capacity of available pipeline infrastructure to take the anticipated associated gas production. The BLM may delay action on, or ultimately deny, a permit to drill to avoid excessive flaring of associated gas.

–  Places time and volume limits on royalty-free flaring, including a monthly volume limit on royalty-free flaring due to pipeline capacity constraints — the primary cause of flaring from federal and Indian leases.

The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register in the coming days. The draft Environmental Assessment and other supporting documents will be available on regulations.gov. Public comments will be accepted via regulations.gov for 60 days after the publication of the rule.


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