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The Bismarck Tribune

The announcement that Oneok Partners will build a natural gas processing plant west of Watford City to handle 200 million cubic feet per day of natural gas put smiles on everyone's faces. More natural gas processing capacity means potentially less flaring, although so far neither the state nor the industry has been able to bring down the volume or the percentage of natural gas flared in western North Dakota.

Wells are being drilled and flared faster than gathering pipelines, on-site power plants and trucks can capture the increasing volumes of natural gas.

The percentage of natural gas flared in the state has stayed nearly flat; unfortunately, the volume of gas produced has grown enormously. Even huge investments by Oneok and others in natural gas processing and use have not been able to reduce flaring.

The state has provided incentives to develop more use for natural gas, including on-site power plants and fueling stations. The state has been working with companies to convert natural gas to fertilizers. However, moving them from the idea stage to drawings, construction and operation takes time. There's been talk of reducing the number of flaring exemptions granted by the Industrial Commission. And an oil-industry-state task force is looking for flaring solutions.

Meanwhile, flaring increases.

A lawsuit has surfaced that claims loss to royalty holders due to flaring.

Everyone in North Dakota, from Gov. Jack Dalrymple on down, knows it's a problem waiting to become a crisis, if it hasn't already. That's why everyone was smiling when Oneok made its announcement, even though the expansion of natural gas processing will not be complete before 2016. Pulling 200 million cubic feet per day from the system will make a difference.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, which the president has vowed to veto, that would speed up the federal oil permitting process. On the surface, that sounds good — except North Dakota doesn't need more speed introduced into its permitting and drilling process. If anything, people would like to get caught up and we're not. Adding flared natural gas from accelerated federal leases in North Dakota would just make matters worse.

All things Oil Patch are going pedal-to-the-floor already. No need to goose the engine.

Oneok Partners is making a huge investment in North Dakota. It will make a difference in flaring of natural gas jobs and general economic wellbeing.

That's good stuff. The state needs to continue to aggressively pursue flaring or the alternative will be unacceptable — slowing down the permit and drilling process or some kind of moratorium.