A Proving Ground For Problem Solvers

By Luke Geiver | November 11, 2013

It’s no coincidence that flaring is the hottest topic for regulators and industry decision makers responsible for developing the Williston Basin’s oil and gas resources. The associated gas created during the oil retrieval process is valuable, unique and, unfortunately, underutilized. The image of the spiraling flame burning constant against the backdrop of a North Dakota or Montana field is practically a mascot for those pointing to what’s wrong with the oil and gas development because of the shale play. Although to some, there is a debate about why gas produced from a Bakken or Three Forks well is flared, this month’s feature outlines the real issues related to flaring, and the solutions being used to address those issues.

In addition to a major effort by both regulators and industry leaders to assess the most feasible regulatory solutions to flaring, technology providers and midstream operators are forcing their stories to be heard. From engineered flaring solutions that are drastically reducing emissions related to flared gas, to onsite compression units capable of stripping out valuable NGLs from well sites that may never be connected to a gathering line due to geographical topography or right-of-way delays, technology providers have moved past the experimental and product testing stage.

Their work reveals the incredible amount of time and investment that has been put into capturing Bakken gas. In the past five years, researchers, flare solutions providers and gathering companies have formulated a better understanding of the components and flow rates of a Williston Basin gas stream. The new insight, combined with proven technologies and a massive ramp-up in gathering-related infrastructure, has reframed the story of flaring. No longer is it  dominated by a theme of waste, loss or economic insignificance. Flaring has evolved. Brian Cebull, president of a company formed specifically to address and reduce the practice, might have the most telling reason why the issue has changed. “We are proud to be a part of the solution,” he says. Cebull is not alone in that sentiment.

Although road construction seems to pale in comparison to flaring, the story, Historic Construction, shows how another major issue in the Bakken has been addressed. This fall, Knife River Corp. started work on the largest road construction project the firm has ever undertaken in North Dakota. The work will transform U.S. Highway 85, the main travel corridor that links service, storage and other oil and gas facilities to the oilpatch near Watford City, N.D. The problem with 85 is that it also runs right through Watford City. The Knife River team is alleviating a huge traffic problem in the city by building a bypass.

Lynn Westfall, director of energy markets for the U.S. Energy Information Agency, is also serving as problem solver. For the past year, his team worked to build a better shale oil production model. As Westfall explains, they wanted a better yardstick, one that could more accurately reflect production trends in the U.S. shale plays. 

Luke Geiver
The Bakken magazine