North Dakota gas capture efforts impress Iraqi officials

Industry has invested over $11B in gas capture infrastructure

gas capture
Iraqi officials toured western North Dakota to see gas capture technologies used to curb flaring.

BISMARCK, N.D. – The Iraqi government has turned to North Dakota for help in finding solutions to the wasteful burning of natural gas that’s a byproduct of oil production.

Iraq, OPEC’s second-biggest oil producer behind Saudi Arabia, is having much the same problem dealing with excess natural gas that North Dakota has had as oil production there has increased, though the state has made strides recently to capture and use it, said Julio Friedmann, the U.S. Energy Department’s deputy assistant secretary for fossil energy.

Iraq’s oil production has surged to more than 4 million barrels a day, up about 2 million barrels in the past five years.

“Iraq is unquestionably serious about reducing flaring,” Friedmann said. “They hope to learn from the experience in North Dakota.”

U.S. Energy Department officials along with Hamed Younis Saleh al-Zoba’ei, Iraq’s deputy minister of gas affairs, and Hillal Ali Ismaeel Mushtaq, Iraq’s director of general of studies, concluded a three-day tour of North Dakota’s oil patch on Wednesday, after visiting gas-processing facilities and meeting with state and industry leaders.

Friedmann said using more natural gas for power generation in Iraq will help grow its economy and stabilize the country. Businesses can benefit by selling technology and building facilities, he said.

The Energy Department says less than 1 per cent of natural gas is flared from oil fields nationwide and less than 3 per cent worldwide. Iraq produces about 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily, but about half of it is burned off and wasted due to the lack of infrastructure, Friedmann said.

North Dakota flares about 20 per cent of its 1.6 million cubic feet of natural gas produced daily in the state, down from about a third less than two years ago. North Dakota trails only Texas in oil production, and its daily output has risen from about 261,000 barrels in 2010 to more than 1.1 million barrels, thanks to advanced drilling techniques in the rich Bakken shale and Three Forks formations.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said the industry has invested more than $11 billion to capture and use natural gas in the past eight years. The industry also has an additional $2 billion in projects that are slated to come on line, including additional pipelines and processing facilities, he said.

Technology that has been developed in North Dakota includes gas-fired electric facilities and using raw natural gas from a well to power the drilling of others, displacing more expensive diesel.

“That the federal government brought the Iraqis here to look at the complexity of capturing this gas and the solutions, I think is a tremendous acknowledgement of our efforts,” said Ness, whose group represents more than 500 companies. “They will bring this back to Iraq, no question.”

The Canadian Press