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North Dakota's fracking-fields pumping CO2 into air from natural gas flaring

Natural gas flaring has dramatically increased, adding to CO2 emissions, thanks to fracking in the Bakken formation
Natural gas flaring has dramatically increased, adding to CO2 emissions, thanks to fracking in the Bakken formationEIA

Increased fracking and oil/gas production in the Bakken area of North Dakota has resulted in a large increase in CO2 emissions from flared natural gas. While the fracked wells in the Bakken primarily produce oil, natural gas and other hydrocarbons are produced as well. According to figures released on Friday by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) over .31 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day is flared in the Bakken.

Due to insufficient pipeline capacity, over a third of the natural gas from these wells cannot be sold into the marketplace. Instead this so-called nonmarketed natural gas is flared, burned that is, on-site. Burning natural gas emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, adding to the daily carbon footprint in the U.S. The .31 billion cubic feet of natural gas flared in the Bakken accounts for 22% of all flared natural gas in the U.S. and is double the .16 billion cubic feet per day levels in 2011.

The situation has improved somewhat since 2011 thanks to construction of a processing plant and two pipelines that capture some of the natural gas, letting it be sold on the market rather than simply burned. Additionally General Electric's "CNG in a Box" system is used at some sites to compress natural gas for use as a fuel.

North Dakota plans to reduce the quantity of "nonmarketed" natural gas over the coming years. A critical project is a proposed 375-mile, 0.4 Bcf/d-pipeline to transport gas from the Charbonneau Compressor Station in western North Dakota to an interconnection with the Viking Gas Transmission pipeline in Moorhead, Minnesota.

Fracking is thought to have a number of negative side effects such as groundwater pollution and fracking-induced earthquakes. Natural gas emissions are one of those side effects, and increase the total carbon footprint of the fossil fuels produced from fracking operations.