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Other Views: Flaring too high on Fort Berthold

The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck

The Three Affiliated Tribes need to move expeditiously to reduce natural gas flaring at wells on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Presently, 55 percent of the natural gas produced on the reservation is flared. While flaring in the Bakken has been high overall — the 30 percent range — the volume of gas being lost on Fort Berthold is excessive.

“We’re entirely too high,” agrees Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall, who wants to build a large natural gas plant on the reservation.

The revelation about flaring and Hall’s plans for a gas plant were talked up at a tribal energy conference in Bismarck this past week.

Oil and gas development on the reservation represents about 20 percent of Bakken production.

The week before, Oneok Partners announced it would spend up to $780 million on a gas plant that would process 200 million cubic feet per day near Watford City in western North Dakota.

Oneok Partners and others have already invested more than $1 billion in oil and gas infrastructure in the oil patch.

The Three Affiliated Tribes are trying to determine where to locate a natural gas plant to the best advantage, and an appropriate size for the plant. Some of that will depend upon the tribes’ ability to raise capital for the project.

Already in the works for Three Affiliated Tribes is a 20,000-barrel, $450 million Thunder Butte Petroleum Services Refinery near Makoti, along with a rail transload facility.

The Three Affiliated Tribes, like most Plains states’ tribes, has been desperate to develop positive economic models on the reservation. Poverty in Indian Country has been a long-term and pervasive issue. It makes burning off valuable natural gas an even more poignant issue.

As the oil industry changes western North Dakota, it’s changing things on the Fort Berthold Reservation. Many of the issues are the same. There are, however, certain differences, and the level of flaring is one of them.

The state of North Dakota has been working to reduce its flaring, with the goal being somewhere below 10 percent. The state is encouraging the construction of gas plants, as well as the development of onsite uses of natural gas for generating electricity or fueling vehicles.

And everyone is working to see more pipeline construction.

The state should share as much as it can with the Three Affiliated Tribes when it comes to developing uses for natural gas in the Bakken.