By Velda Addison, Hart Energy

Flaring natural gas is a waste in terms of lost potential revenue for the oil and gas industry. It also trashes the environment.

It is true, however, that the lack of infrastructure to capture such gas is a problem that will no doubt take money and time to develop—something that the gatekeepers of oil and gas companies’ financial coffers probably don’t want to hear as they see profits drop due to depressed commodity prices that have lingered for too long.

But reducing natural gas flaring, including while producing oil is a good thing.

Everyone should applaud North Dakota, regulators and producers alike, for reducing the amount of gas flared.

Within about two years, North Dakota has lowered the percentage of natural gas production flared from 36% in January 2014 to 10% in March 2016, according to data released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

That’s quite an accomplishment, and it shows just how serious North Dakota is taking its ambitions to improve the state’s dismal record on natural gas flaring, which contributes to carbon dioxide emissions. The effort also comes with the added benefit of enabling more gas to be brought to market, if the infrastructure is in place, when it is needed.

Flaring, or burning, natural gas instead of venting it, or releasing it into the air, is safer and better for the environment, according to the EIA.

“Vented, unprocessed natural gas contains hydrocarbons that are heavier than air, such as propane and butane, which can be hazardous if ignited,” the EIA said. “Flaring natural gas produces carbon dioxide, which, while also a greenhouse gas, has a much lower global warming potential (a measure of how various gases can affect the atmosphere's radiative balance) than methane.”

North Dakota’s Bakken region is among the top oil- and gas-producing regions in the U.S. Although it is a “relatively new production area that has lacked sufficient natural gas pipeline infrastructure,” according to the EIA, gas production is estimated to be about 1.7 billion cubic feet in June.

“As new infrastructure has been built, more of the Bakken region’s natural gas production has been brought to market, reducing the volume of flared natural gas despite much higher production,” the EIA said in its report June 13.

Most of the flared gas comes for new wells, which can be granted confidential reporting status by the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources for the first six months of the well’s production, the EIA said. But these wells have nearly double the flaring rates of their non-confidential counterparts.

“Based on data for the 12 months from April 2015 through March 2016, 29% of the natural gas produced by confidential wells in North Dakota was flared, while 15% of the natural gas from non-confidential wells was flared,” the EIA said. “Once a well's first year of production ends, operators must cap the well, connect it to a natural gas gathering line, equip the well with an electrical generator that consumes at least 75% of the natural gas from the well, or find another approved approach that reduces flaring.”

The EIA report was released, however, a few days before the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) reported that the state’s oil output sank the most in its history in April.

Reuters reported that North Dakota pumped 1.04 million barrels of oil per day in April, about 70,414 bbl/d less than March. The decline was attributed to low prices and windy weather, which delays the fracking of wells, the news agency said, citing DMR head Lynn Helms.

Velda Addison can be reached at