Wayde Schafer: N.D. lawmakers willfully ignored environmental issues

BISMARCK--The 64th Legislative Assembly of 2015 chose to blatantly disregard a persistent environmental problem facing North Dakota: the flaring of natural gas in the Bakken.

Wayde Schafer

BISMARCK-The 64th Legislative Assembly of 2015 chose to blatantly disregard a persistent environmental problem facing North Dakota: the flaring of natural gas in the Bakken.

We are getting all of the pollution and none of the energy from a valuable natural resource.

A recent poll shows that North Dakotans want this embarrassing, wasteful flaring problem fixed ASAP.

The poll was commissioned by the Dakota Resource Council and the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club and was conducted Feb. 18-March 6 by UND's College of Business and Public Administration. And according to the poll, 64 percent of respondents think oil companies are flaring off more gas than they should, while 58 percent support withholding drilling permits until the oil company has in place the means to capture the gas.

Some 65 percent of respondents also support requiring royalty payments to mineral owners for wasted gas.


There were two bills introduced in the North Dakota Senate that dealt directly with the flaring of natural gas.

The first was SB 2287, a bill to amend the North Dakota Century Code by reducing the time a well is allowed to flare from one year down to 90 days. This would have made state law consistent with the gas capture plans that are the foundation of the North Dakota Industrial Commission's Gas Flaring Policy.

For unlike conventional oil wells, Bakken wells generally produce most of their oil and gas in the first two years, after which production drops off dramatically. So, if Bakken wells are allowed to flare their associated natural gas for the first year of production, most of the gas that that well will produce will be wasted through flaring.

However, SB 2287 was defeated on the Senate floor. So today, if push comes to shove and an oil company decides not to follow their 90-day gas-capture plan, the Industrial Commission is powerless to force them to do so because current state law allows flaring for up to a year.

The second, SB 2343, started out on the Senate side as a bill to require oil and gas developers in the Bakken to pay royalties to mineral owners and taxes to the state on natural gas that is wasted by flaring. This would have not only provided a fair return on a valuable asset currently wasted, but also incentivized the capture of natural gas at the well site.

But ironically, almost cynically, the bill was "hoghoused" by the Senate. This means that the bill's language-which was meant to fairly compensate mineral owners and collect taxes for the state-was struck and replaced with language designed to sabotage the Industrial Commission's efforts to reduce gas flaring in the Bakken.

The final language in the version of SB 2343 that passed is a kind of code. It attaches a fiscal burden to-and thus, potentially kills-any policy that tries to mitigate the environmental impacts from oil and gas development in the state.

The fact that it is retroactive to one year before the North Dakota Industrial Commission adopted its current gas-flaring policy makes the intention clear.


In the course of missing opportunities, the 2015 Legislature ignored the "will of the people"and showed total apathy toward the environment, North Dakota taxpayers and private mineral owners.

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