Quick Facts

  • BLM is itself a cause of higher levels of flaring and venting on federal and Indian lands because of delays in approving Rights of Way (ROW)for gas gathering lines.
  • Even when gathering infrastructure is in place, some flaring and venting may be unavoidable due to quality, plant processing capacity, maintenance and other factors.
  • Industry uses natural gas powered drilling rig engines and artificial lift engines to use as much on-site produced gas as possible to minimize flaring.

Flaring is the practice of combusting excess gas and emissions from oil and natural gas wells. Industry makes every effort to reduce flaring of gases but sometimes must do so for safety reasons, regulatory requirements, or lack of sufficient infrastructure to move the natural gas to market. Natural gas consists primarily of methane, but also contains other gases such as butane and propane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs can combine with Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) under the right weather conditions to form ozone. For various operational, safety, and environmental reasons, methane and VOCs, are combusted or flared.

Natural gas produced along with oil in an oil well is called associated gas. In new oil plays, the pipeline and other infrastructure necessary to capture the associated gas may not be in place, making flaring necessary. Producers must prove up new areas as viable in order to determine what new infrastructure is necessary and raise appropriate capital. Once a field becomes more established, natural gas capture rates increase and the need for flaring is reduced.

Across all types of wells and reservoirs in the U.S., less than 1% of natural gas is flared. On the other hand, newer unconventional shale plays like the Bakken in North Dakota and Montana have higher rates of flaring. The North Dakota Petroleum Council flaring task force has worked with the state to develop a plan to reduce flaring in the Bakken with the goal of capturing 85% of associated gas by 2016 and 91% by 2020. Industry is investing nearly $8 billion to build the necessary gathering lines, pipelines, processing plants, and other infrastructure.

Often, when companies are developing the gas-capture infrastructure, obtaining the Rights of Way (ROW) to lay new pipelines across multiple property owners’ land takes time and flaring must occur in the interim. When federal or tribal lands are involved, the delays can be even greater, as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Bureau of Indian Affairs are often slow to process ROWs. Yet instead of processing ROWs in a timely manner to reduce flaring, BLM is embarking on a time-consuming regulatory process that will take two years or more. Senators Barrasso, Hoeven, and Enzi have introduced the Natural Gas Gathering Enhancement Act (S. 411) to rectify the bureaucratic foot dragging that is resulting in more flaring and venting than should otherwise occur.