Oil Boom Shifts The Landscape Of Rural North Dakota

Addressing the natural gas flaring issue in North Dakota’s portion of the Bakken Shale formation is not as simple as just connecting new wells to pipeline infrastructure. Sometimes new, high-pressure wells can overwhelm existing infrastructure and without additional compression, more frequent maintenance or expanding the system, extinguishing the flares is not feasible.

The latest report from the North Dakota Pipeline Authority – referenced yesterday on Breaking Energy – explains the state’s flaring reduction challenges and offers some innovative flaring alternatives.

“The Pipeline Authority assigns two major categories to wells with natural gas flaring in North Dakota (Figure 5). The first and most obvious is the flaring of natural gas due to a lack of pipeline infrastructure. The second, and currently the largest in terms of volume, is the flaring of natural gas due to challenges on existing natural gas infrastructure (e.g. pipelines, compressors, processing equipment).”

NDPA figure 5

Figure 5


“It should be noted that simply connecting a well to a gas gathering system may not completely extinguish the flare if the pipeline system cannot handle all of the new production. In this case, the well’s flared volume would shift to the “existing infrastructure” category until expansion of the pipeline system is adequate to eliminate the need for flaring at the well. As more wells are connected to gas gathering systems, the share of gas flared on “existing infrastructure” versus “non-connected” will continue to grow.”

According to the Pipeline Authority, in August 2013, 16% of North Dakota’s natural gas was flared from wells that were connected to one of the gas sales facilities due to one or more of the following circumstances:

  • Need for additional pipeline compression. Historic, lower pressure wells (top of Figure 10) are connected and selling their gas on a conventional gathering/processing system. A new, high pressure well begins producing and is placed on the same pipeline network as the older, lower pressure wells. The older wells do not operate at a pressure necessary to overcome the new line pressure and begin to flare. Additional pipeline compression may be necessary to correct this situation.”
NDPA fig 10

Figure 10


  • Need to “loop’ existing pipeline systems. Some pipeline systems in North Dakota are simply not large enough to handle the high volume of gas production due to improving completion techniques and increased density drilling. Placing a second pipeline, or looping, into service may be required to handle the long term needs of that particular pipeline segment.”
NDPA fig 11

Figure 11


  • Frequent pigging of existing pipelines. As described earlier, Bakken natural gas is very rich in NGLs. These liquids have the tendency to precipitate in the pipeline system and pool at the bottom of the pipeline system, particularly in cooler weather and/or lower elevation segments. This layer of natural gas liquids chokes the pipeline of valuable space that could be used for moving natural gas. Gathering pipeline operators are continually working on pigging operations to clear, or “squeegee”, the pipelines of these liquids.”
NDPA fig 12

Figure 12

Several technologies are being developed to utilize natural gas onsite to generate power or create value-added products, thus eliminating flaring. Given the global importance of reduced natural gas flaring, some of these technologies could be potential investment opportunities. The NDPA report cites the following technologies:

• Onsite natural gas fired electrical generation

• Fertilizer production from wellhead natural gas

• Trucking of natural gas within North Dakota

• Conversion of natural gas to liquid fuel

• Small scale, onsite processing of the natural gas

Visit http://northdakotapipelines.com/webinars/ to watch webinars and learn more about alternative technologies being developed to reduce the volume of natural gas being flared.