The Natural Gas Market Can't Save Itself, Let Alone Europe

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Politicians seeking something to preen over have seized on natural gas as their issue.

A Texas representative has introduced a bill he claims will expedite exports of natural gas. The Republican leadership has jumped on board, saying slow approvals of export terminals represent a "de facto ban."

But before gas can be exported, it has to get to market. And a lot of U.S. natural gas is being flared in the field. Yes, the gas is burned up in an open flame on site.

A record volume of gas was flared in 2012, according to the Department of Energy - 212,848 million cubic feet (mcf). The big increase was in North Dakota's Bakken field, which flared more than one-third of the U.S. total that year, and one-third of its own production.

So much gas is being burned you can see it from space, notes Producers say small oil wells don't deliver enough gas to make running a pipeline to the wells profitable. They flare gas to get at the more-profitable oil.

There are alternatives. If some money is invested in conditioning the gas it can power drilling rigs. If trucks are converted to run on this gas it can power a driller's truck fleet. Small plants can be built near wellheads to make fertilizer. The North Dakota Petroleum Council says it will capture and use 85% of its production within two years.

That will cut flaring in half. It won't eliminate it. Most of that reduction in waste won't go directly into pipelines, and even if it did the volume would have little impact on the market price.

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