As you're well aware by now, North Dakota's oil production has grown at an incredible rate since 2008, and expected to pump more than 1.1 million barrels per day this month.
The problem is that there's one side-effect that's come with this tremendous production growth — an exorbitant amount of gas flaring.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, with data from the North Dakota Industrial Commission
This, of course, is mostly thanks to a severe lack in the infrastructure. Without that infrastructure in place, companies believe it's more profitable to burn the gas off at the wellhead.
Yet, new regulations have given the state's industry new goals...
Currently, North Dakota aims to capture and sell about 78% of total natural gas that is emitted, or to flare only 22% of the natural gas output.
Now, one of the main reasons why gas is flared, however, is because venting it is illegal in North Dakota. It’s not the safest of practices to begin with, and not doing so eliminates the possibility of emitting hazardous materials into the air.
That's also not to mention that the gas is extremely flammable.
And although we've seen drilling activity fall off a cliff over the last year and a half, companies in the Bakken have become much more efficient at extracting their oil, which in turn increased natural gas withdrawals. tural gas withdrawals.
Last year — in North Dakota alone — the volume of flared gas reached 0.35 billion cubic feet per day, which accounted for roughly half of the total flared or vented gas in the United States.
And going forward, gas processing capacity in North Dakota is expected to reach 1.6 billion cubic feet per day, practically matching the current gross withdrawals.
One of the issues is that there's a different mix of gases and liquids that are produced as a byproduct during oil production. As you know, both “wet gas” (which includes methane, ethane, and propane), and “dry gas” can be produced from this stream... and the liquids can't be left in the dry stream, given the specifications that limit both its quantity and heat content.
In fact, natural gas from the Bakken has higher levels of ethane than gas from other areas.
It has the second highest heat content of natural gas (that is delivered to consumers) in the US, and that limits the amount of ethane that processing plants can leave in the gas streams, and that is due to limited natural gas plant liquid storage capacity.