While the companies flaring vast volumes of gas in North Dakota may think that they are just burning gas to make oil money, they are also burning the reputation of their industry and state regulation.
The drilling in North Dakota is for oil, much more valuable oil, and the gas released comes with the oil production. Oil currently sells for about 30 times more than natural gas. Instead of producing the gas commercially, the drilling companies burn it off so that they can speed the oil from the well to market. The gas being flared amounts to $100 million per month or more than a billion dollars a year.
Some in the oil and gas industry express bewilderment that it regularly scores public approval levels below lawyers and journalists and just a bit above Congress. Yet, the flaring in North Dakota is just one example of behavior that is perfectly calculated to turn off many people across America and does more damage to the industry than its most demagogic or ill-informed critics.
The flaring puts into the air 4.5 million tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants too. The carbon released is a bit less than 0.1% of all of America's annual carbon emissions. Coming from just one source that could sharply reduce its emissions, that matters.
While too many people in the oil and gas industry just dismiss climate change, the vast majority of Americans, to say nothing of qualified scientists, rightly are increasingly concerned about the rising concentrations of heat trapping gas in our collective atmosphere. Indeed, the problem with the general attitude of so many in the oil and gas industry about climate is that they dismiss not only climate science but also their fellow Americans who want action to cut carbon emissions.
Again, it is not so much the pollution released in North Dakota that makes the flaring so disturbing. What makes the flaring so disturbing is what it demonstrates about the attitude of the companies doing it.
As the Ceres report states, not all companies in North Dakota are engaging in this awful behavior. A company called Continental recently cut its flaring in half and aims to get it to nearly zero within a year. Unfortunately, Continental appears to be an exception and not the rule in North Dakota.
Speaking of rules and regulators. North Dakota's rules enable its industry's flaring orgy. If North Dakota regulators will not sharply reduce this flaring, they are making a case for a federal rule to do so.
The North Dakota flaring is shameful. One wonders if the participants are beyond shame.