Two and a half years ago, more than a third of the natural gas being fracked in North Dakota was being burned on site, in a process called flaring. The pace of the shale revolution was so rapid that producers in far-flung places like North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation lacked the requisite infrastructure to bring all of their product to market. With shale gas production, excess product has to be burned for both safety reasons and to prevent the potent greenhouse gas methane from escaping into the atmosphere. But flaring produces a significant amount of carbon emissions and has long been one of the environmental movement’s chief criticisms of fracking.
Now, as the EIA reports, North Dakota’s shale industry seems to have gotten a handle on the problem:
The volume of North Dakota’s natural gas production that is flared has fallen sharply in both absolute and percentage terms since 2014. In March 2016, 10% of North Dakota’s total natural gas production was flared, less than one-third of the January 2014 flaring rate, which was at 36%. Flaring rates and volumes have significantly decreased as North Dakota’s total natural gas production has continued to grow, setting a monthly total natural gas production record of 1.71 billion cubic feet per day in March 2016. The North Dakota Industrial Commission established targets in September 2015 to reduce natural gas flaring.
Make no mistake, this is a triumph. Cutting flaring rates down from an eyebrow raising high of 36 percent of total production down to just 10 percent in just over two years is a massive achievement. And it’s not just a boon to greens concerned about fracking’s entailed greenhouse gas emissions—this good news for fracking firms, as well. For the shale industry, flaring gas is no different from burning money, and being able to sell a much higher percentage of their product will only strengthen the vitality of the companies plumbing North Dakota’s shale rock.
This is also an example of regulation working, for a change. The North Dakota Industrial Commission moved to bring flaring rates down by establishing targets (that become more stringent by the quarter) for the industry, and the state itself taxes companies for the gas that they flare. The state was able to find that goldilocks spot where its attempts to make operations greener were successful without choking the life out of the shale boom. The future looks bright for fracking in America.