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Anti-Flaring Sentiment Strong in the West, Poll Shows

A strong majority of potential voters in four western states support government mandates for oil/natural gas operators to greatly cut amounts of flared wellhead associated gas, according to a recent survey completed for the nonprofit Western Values Project (WVP).

Support by 65-71% of those surveyed in Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Utah "would require oil companies to significantly reduce the amount of natural gas they release or burn off into the air when they extract oil from public lands," according to the WVP survey, which was conducted by Benenson Strategy Group. Benenson surveyed 750 "likely voters" in the four states Sept. 2-7.

The results show respondents on a bipartisan basis support a flaring rule by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the findings echo concerns expressed during a series of recent BLM public listening sessions, said Ross Lane, WVP director.

North Dakota has a statewide effort underway to curb flaring (see Shale Daily, July 3). The state has outlined the rules to reduce flared gas to 5% by the end of 2020 from 10% at the start of that year. The goals do not apply to federal lands at Fort Berthold, where about 30% of the state's oil production takes place.

"North Dakota, where 83% of likely voters were aware of the venting and flaring issue, had the highest level of support for strong regulations at 76%," the report said. "So it's no surprise that North Dakota has moved rapidly to adopt state rules to address the problem." Utah and Colorado also have taken steps to address the problem, according to the report.

WVP's focus is on federal lands, and in North Dakota state officials have expressed concerns about BLM's ability to manage oil/gas development on federal lands (see Shale Daily, May 23).

One-third of North Dakota’s growing oil and natural gas production comes from the Fort Berthold Reservation land, state officials said in May, while adding that the BLM has agreed informally that the state's new anti-flaring rules would be enforced on the federally managed lands (see Shale Daily, May 15).

Benenson's survey showed more than two-thirds of the voters in the four states support a rule requiring "oil companies to significantly reduce the amount of natural gas they release or burn off into the air when they extract oil from public lands. Initial support stands at 69%, with 38% strongly supporting, and 22% opposing such a rule.

"Support for the rule crosses party lines," Benenson said. "Even among Republicans, a 57% majority supports it, and just 31% oppose. Across gender, age and race, support never dips below 65%."

WVP said in a report earlier this year that flaring was getting "significantly worse" each year. The report, "Up in Flames: Taxpayers Left out in the Cold as Publicly Owned Natural Gas is Carelessly Wasted," estimated taxpayers could lose $800 million over the next 10 years in lost royalties.

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