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LETTER: Government can and should act to reduce flaring

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FARGO — The federal Bureau of Land Management was in North Dakota this week holding a listening session with North Dakotans on what can and should be done to curtail natural gas flaring and methane emissions associated with oil and gas production on public lands in the state.

North Dakota set a new record for natural gas flaring in December 2013, with 36 percent of the gas produced flared off into our air and skies. Natural gas flaring rates are even higher on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, with nearly 48 percent of the gas flared in the first 11 months of 2013.

We can and should do much more to reduce flaring and methane emissions on private and public lands. By flaring gas and allowing harmful methane to be released, we are causing environmental harm and economic loss.

According to the BLM, oil and gas leasing, exploration and production on public lands in North Dakota contributed nearly $6 billion economic activity in 2012. Royalties from oil and gas production on Indian lands have rose to $250 million in 2013, up from $106 million in 2011.

U.S. taxpayers are losing out on royalty payments — $23 million annually — from the gas that is flared on public lands, much in the same way that private mineral owners are losing out. Capturing and using the flared natural gas will provide additional revenue to oil companies, payments to royalty owners and revenue for the state and the federal government.

Natural gas capturing technologies are economical and available today.

Methane emissions associated with oil and gas production also are very troubling, as 29 percent of all U.S. methane emissions are generated by the oil and gas industry.

Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is a powerful and short-lived climate pollutant that accelerates the rate of climate change, causing more frequent and more intense extreme weather events and seriously impacting the public health and welfare of North Dakotans.

Research shows that the oil and gas and associated industries could significantly slash methane emissions from the transport of oil and gas production by implementing currently available, inexpensive emission-control technologies and adopting better operating practices that address leak detection and repair.

I am requesting that BLM issue new guidelines and regulations that help reduce flaring and methane emissions on public lands in North Dakota and across the country. Research clearly shows that there are several economical and effective measures that can be taken to accomplish this goal.

Now is the time to act.

Tim Mathern

Mathern, a Democrat, represents District 11 in the North Dakota Senate.

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