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Industrial Commission sets goals to reduce gas flaring

BISMARCK -- The North Dakota Industrial Commission adopted three broad goals Thursday to reduce the amount of natural gas that is burned away at oil wells around the Oil Patch.

The goals are to reduce the volume of gas that is flared, the number of wells flaring and how long the gas is flared at a well.

Lynn Helms, director of the state Department of Mineral Resources, was directed during last month's Industrial Commission meeting to begin working with the oil industry to develop a detailed plan to curb the wasteful practice.

Helms said Thursday the industry has created a large task force and working group that he will take part in periodically as he works to create a more detailed approach within the three broad goals.

But adopting the goals now will help keep the industry working group on task.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who has been adamantly in favor of a detailed, long-term plan, said he wants to make sure the industry understands what the commission wants.

Stenehjem said by allowing the amount of flaring, the state has "stretched the public's tolerance and acceptance too far."

"As long as we have a long-term strategy ... and get to where we don't have any (more) flaring than absolutely necessary, I think the public would be supportive," he said.

New wells

The commission also approved a request to drill new wells just north of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, despite concerns by the Badlands Conservation Alliance.

The approval allows Whiting Petroleum to let two concentrated areas of oil wells overlap. The overlap eliminates a buffer area where wells normally cannot exist between the spacing units.

But there are concerns the new drilling rigs and flares will be visible from two overlook points at the north end of the national park, about three miles from the drilling location in McKenzie County.

The overlap request is a new issue, said Helms, who wanted the commission to give him direction to handle it in the future.

Helms said the conservation group's concerns were noted in the request because they are the same visibility concerns the general public would have.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who serves on the Industrial Commission along with Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, said he stood in the overlooks recently and looked toward the area under consideration.

"It's a beautiful area, but what I saw there is not really creating any undue problem in terms of appreciating the view," Dalrymple said. "If it were to come closer, I think there is a definite possibility that it could begin to impact that overlook. I do think it is important we understand it's not going to come closer than it is today."

Helms said there is a gas collection line in place and doesn't expect the overlapping to add any flaring.

Stenehjem abstained, as his family owns a small portion of land just north of the site.