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North Dakota Slowly Tapering Gas Flares

Thanks to the Bakken Shale, North Dakota oil production set a record last year; however, the oil bounty also drove up the flaring of associated gas to a high of more than one-third of production last December, according to the state's Department of Mineral Resources (DMR).

According to DMR figures, the state produced about 215,000 b/d of oil last year, a substantial increase from about 110,000 b/d produced in 2007, DMR Director Lynn Helms told NGI.

Last year producers flared about 21 Bcf of gas because gathering and pipeline infrastructure was not available to get it to market, he said. The 21 Bcf figure does not include about 5 Bcf of nitrogen used in enhanced oil recovery operations that also ended up being flared.

The state has been flaring a lot of gas for a while, but not as much as last year, and the amount of gas going up in flames is declining this year, Helms said. In June 2007 about 5.8 Bcf was produced during the month and 1 Bcf (17%) was flared, including the nitrogen. Last December production was 7.5 Bcf, of which 2.8 Bcf (37%) was flared. Last June about 1.9 Bcf was flared. "We believe it's continuing to drop as we bring this gathering infrastructure on," he said.

"We have rules in place where we limit the production from oil wells and the amount of gas they can flare going forward," Helms said. "A well is only allowed to flare its maximum amount for the first two months, and then we begin...to restrict production to conserve that resource. For example, they bring a well on, it can flare at maximum rate for 60 days, and then we force the production down to 200 b/d for 60 days, down to 150 b/d for 60 more days and then it goes down to 100 b/d until they get [the gas] connected."

The depth, spacing and pressure of the oil wells precludes reinjection of the produced gas, Helms said.

Infrastructure is in development to take the gas that's currently being flared to market, though. The Prairie Rose Pipeline, a project of Pecan Pipeline (North Dakota) Inc., a subsidiary of EOG Resources Inc., will carry gas from the Bakken to Alliance Pipeline (see NGI, Nov. 3, 2008). Prairie Rose is expected to be online before the end of the year and will carry about 70 MMcf/d. "With that we should get down to where 10% of the gas is being flared," Helms said.

And WBI Holdings Inc. subsidiary Williston Basin Interstate Pipeline Co. has announced plans to develop the Bakken Pipeline, a 100-mile pipe designed to transport gas from the Bakken to an interconnect with Alliance (see NGI, May 26, 2008).

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