Natural Gas Waste Sparks Class Action Lawsuits

oil_companies_wasting_natural_gasNorth Dakota miners just filed 10 class action lawsuits seeking millions of dollars over some 1,500 fires burning in the North Dakota Bakken shale oil field.

The lawsuits seek retribution for lost royalties from deliberately set fires of natural gas by companies that were hoping to drill for oil but did not have appropriate pipelines for transport, according to The New York Times. Cheap gas is burning with costly oil, leaving no incentive to drill pipelines; the extra gas is burned instead.

Flared gas sends out climate-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a practice that has just about tripled in the past two years in North Dakota. Some 30 percent of that state’s burned well output has produced emissions that are about the same as more than two medium sized coal-fired power plants, according to the Times.

The flared North Dakota gas is valued at about $100 million a month. Because of this, property owners who lease their lands to oil companies feel that, although they are earning royalties on the oil expansion in their state, they are losing money. The land owners seek legal payment of royalties to mineral owners on flared gas values, which is hoped to reduce the environmental impacts connected with flaring, according to the Times. Continental Resources, XTO Energy, SM Energy, and Marathon Oil are among those being sued.

Oil can be stored indefinitely in tanks after drilling; however, natural gas must be piped to a processing facility immediately, according to Reuters. About one-third of the natural gas drilled off from the Bakken shale field is being allowed to flare.

“There’s a lot of shareholder value going up in flames due to flaring,” said Ryan Salmon, who wrote a report on the matter for Ceres, a nonprofit group that tracks public company environmental records. “Investors want companies to have a more aggressive reaction to flaring and disclose clear steps to fix the problem,” Salmon added, according to Reuters.

The flaring going on in North Dakota is visible from space, wrote Reuters.

Natural gas is comprised of methane and butane; more than 266,000 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared daily in North Dakota, which comes to about $3.6 million in lost revenue each day.

The United States now ranks fourth in the world’s top ten flaring countries because of the Bakken flares, the Huffington Post writes. The Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are equivalent to about one million cars on the road.

“Epidemiological studies provide sufficient evidence of the association of cardiopulmonary morbidity and mortality with exposure to black carbon. Toxicological studies suggest that black carbon may operate as a universal carrier of a wide variety of chemicals of varying toxicity to the human body,” the World Health Organization (WHO) writes. Black carbon is part of the emissions process, the HuffPost explains.