Oil companies drilling for the stuff in places like North Dakota are happy to let perfectly good natural gas — a by-product of the drilling process — go to waste. From the New York Times:
They are not wildfires caused by lightning strikes or other acts of nature, but the deliberate burning of natural gas by oil companies rushing to extract oil from the Bakken shale field and take advantage of the high price of crude. The gas bubbles up alongside the far more valuable oil, and with less economic incentive to capture it, the drillers treat the gas as waste and simply burn it.
Every day, more than 100 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared this way — enough energy to heat half a million homes for a day.
The flared gas also spews at least two million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, as much as 384,000 cars or a medium-size coal-fired power plant would emit, alarming some environmentalists.
All told, 30 percent of the natural gas produced in North Dakota is burned as waste. No other major domestic oil field currently flares close to that much, though the practice is still common in countries like Russia, Nigeria and Iran.
Yes, by all means, let’s trust oil and gas companies to do the right thing.
(Photo of natural gas being flared off near Ray, North Dakota by Jim Wilson for the New York Times)
I don’t know if this is being totally truthful. If the economic incentive doesn’t exist to sell the natural gas (the cost of piping and equipment is greater than the amount you would sell) then it makes sense for them to
sell flare it.
Flaring isn’t done for fun, it’s unsafe to release natural gas this way, or allow it to buildup around the operating equipment.
Although capturing the gas is the best option, scientists say that flaring is better for the environment than venting the gas into the atmosphere. Pure natural gas is mostly methane, which has far greater heat-trapping qualities than carbon dioxide.