Rob Port | Bakken.com Contributor
Since earlier this year I’ve been saying that North Dakota is in for a big drop in flaring, and it appears as though that drop is upon us. New gas capture and processing infrastructure is having a big impact on the amount of gas flared even before the state’s new flaring regulations are enforced.
We saw a big spike in flaring over the 2013-2014 winter, and that was because a Hess gas processing plant in Tioga went offline for upgrades. Before the upgrades, that plant was processing 100 million cubic feet of gas per day.
When it went offline, as you can see in the chart below, it had a big impact on the state’s flaring rate.
As of May that plant was back to 120 million cubic feet per day, and should be processing 250 million cubic feet per day right now, though it’s currently behind schedule. It could go as high as 300 million cubic feet per day.
Still, even with delays, the impact of the expansion is beginning to show up in the state’s flaring numbers, which lag about two months behind, and we haven’t seen the end of the impacts yet.
“The percentage of gas flared dropped to 26% even though the new Tioga gas plant remained below full capacity due to delayed expansion of gas gathering from south of Lake Sakakawea,” Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms wrote in his September report. What’s more, the rate of flaring dropped so much that the actual daily volume of gas flared was reduced. “The July capture percentage was 74% which reduced the daily volume of gas flared from June to July 18.6 MMCFD,” writes Helms.
That’s a big deal.
Here’s the trend line for the flaring rate. The big spike over the winter was, again, the Hess gas plant expansion. Now it seems the state is back on track for a downward trend in the flaring rate:
But the flaring rate doesn’t tell the whole story. Thanks to North Dakota’s continued growth in oil production – July saw another new record at 1.1 million barrels per day – more gas is being produced all the time. A reduction in the flaring rate doesn’t necessarily mean a reduction in the volume of gas burned off.
So let’s take a look at what the impact has been on gas flaring.
Here are the trend lines for the actual volumes of gas captured and flared. As you can see, the amount of gas captured continues a strong upward trend (outside of, again, the winter months with the Hess gas plant was down for upgrades) while the amount of gas flared has plateaued and begun trending down.