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122618-nws-flaring

Natural gas is flared at a well site north of Killdeer, North Dakota, along North Dakota Highway 22 on Dec. 12. Flaring requests are up in the Powder River Basin.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission green lit another flaring request last week, albeit a narrower one than usual, due to a packed docket of hearings.

Navigation Powder River, LLC, an oil and gas exploration and production company, sought an exemption to Wyoming’s limitations on flaring gas at a new well. A pipeline that is currently contracted to be built to serve the well site is not complete. The company brought a slew of experts to argue for the duration and necessity of flaring up to 2 million cubic feet of gas on average, per day, for up to 90 days.

But to expedite the day’s hearing process, the commission gave Navigation a month to continue flaring at 2 million cubic feet on average per day for up to 30 days. If Navigation is still in need of additional flaring by next month’s hearing, it may approach the commission and provide the full presentation explaining why it needs to flare and how it will attempt to minimize waste, according to commission rules.

A lawyer for Navigation, John Chadd of Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, said that was not expected.

“We have good reason to believe we will not have to come back if we have that extension,” he told commissioners.

With more oil and gas drilling in areas of the state that do not have extensive infrastructure to capture and transport gas, flaring exemption requests have increased before the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“The number of flaring requests is a result of more activity and interest in the Powder River Basin now that prices have recovered and have remained in the $50 range,” said Kim Mazza, spokeswoman for the commission in an email. “One thing the commission requires is a plan from the operator on how they will address the flaring to stay within agency’s guidelines and not waste the state’s valuable resource. This has proven effective as we see operators more consistently stay within or below their approved amount and time frame.”

Despite a gas boom in the Powder River Basin in years past, many note the lack of pipeline infrastructure out there today for gas or oil even as activity increases. The number of applications for drilling permits has skyrocketed over the last 18 months, surpassing a record 30,000.

Flaring requests are at times the result of pipeline infrastructure being under construction and at times a means to entice midstream developers to connect a production area that lies outside a network of pipe. Flaring requests are closely watched by environmental groups that eye both the burning off of gas and the venting of gas critically.

Commissioners often express distaste for allowing flaring exemptions in Wyoming, which amounts to waste of Wyoming’s resources, but lean favorably towards presentations that argue the flaring is necessary to encourage investment in gathering lines or limit waste in the long term.

“I hope they’ve gotten the message from the commission that we really don’t like flaring very much,” Commissioner Mark Doelger said of industry, following a flaring request approval last year. “But you have to take it case by case.”

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Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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