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Significant progress on flaring

The apparent willingness of the North Dakota Industrial Commission to better scrutinize wasteful flaring of natural gas in the Bakken oil play can add a layer of effective regulatory oversight that has been missing. That is, if it’s done right.

The commission’s action this week comes just weeks after the North Dakota Petroleum Council announced an industry-led initiative to reduce gas flaring by as much as 90 percent in the coming years. The industry effort is a unique collaboration among companies and other stakeholders that have interests in natural gas operations from the wellhead to processing to marketing. If it works the way the council is selling it (and if it’s not a ploy to blunt rising criticism of flaring), it can be a model of how energy companies can cooperate to solve a tough problem.

In that regard, the oversight and permit functions of the Industrial Commission fit nicely into the industry’s stated goals. As commission chairman Gov. Jack Dalrymple said this week: “It won’t do any good to rubber-stamp every gas plan that comes forward.” That’s precisely the approach the commission must take, while working in arms-length concert with the industry’s program.

It’s a good start.