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New Report Exposes Hidden Fracking Subsidy on Public and Tribal Lands

Energy

A new, peer-reviewed report from Friends of the Earth brings to light one of Big Oil’s most overlooked subsidies: royalty-free flaring on public and tribal lands.

Bakken flaring gas at night. Photo credit: Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons

As the fracking boom spreads across the country, companies eager to tap profitable shale oil are burning away—or flaring—natural gas in record amounts. This practice increases air pollution and sends climate-busting carbon dioxide directly into the atmosphere. Last updated 35 years ago, existing federal guidelines allow widespread flaring on public and tribal lands that is almost always exempt from royalties.

“Royalty-free flaring is both a dangerous addition to climate disruption and a de facto subsidy for the oil industry,” said Lukas Ross, climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “For over a century Big Oil has been subsidized to the hilt with everything from tax breaks to royalty free-leasing. To that list we can now add natural gas flaring—and it has to stop.”

Bernice 1 and 2 moisture flare in Arnegard, North Dakota. Photo credit: Tim Evanson / Wikimedia Commons

Focusing on the national epicenter of the flaring boom in North Dakota’s Bakken shale, the report, “A Flaring Shame: North Dakota & the hidden fracking subsidy,” uses data directly from Bureau of Land Management to reveal the exact amount of gas wasted by individual companies.

Findings include:

  • Between January 2007 and April 2013, the BLM permitted the royalty-free flaring of 107,573,228 mcfs of natural gas on North Dakota public and tribal lands, producing carbon dioxide equivalent to the annual emissions of more than 1.3 million cars and wasting an estimated $524 million worth of resources.

  • Although more than 50 operators received royalty-free gas, a single company—Harold Hamm’s Continental Resources—was responsible for more waste than all of the others combined, burning a grand total of 55 million mcfs of gas producing carbon emissions equivalent to more than 360 million gallons of gasoline.

  • The venting of natural gas releases methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. In North Dakota Marathon Oil vented the most of any single company with 962, 812 mcfs, equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions from more than 35,000 homes.

“As the Obama administration prepares new rules to tackle venting and flaring, it has the opportunity to end this subsidy for good,” said Ross. “For the sake of taxpayers and the climate, this loophole must be closed.”

The original data provided by the BLM is available here

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

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