Oil And Gas Commission Struggles To Curb Flaring

Mar 11, 2015

Credit Willow Belden

Wyoming regulators have backtracked on a threat that Cirque Resources would face severe consequences if it didn’t figure out a way to curb the burning off of natural gas from the company’s oil wells in Laramie County.

Flaring natural gas is something the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has tried to crack down on in recent years, so when Cirque Resources asked in November for permission to burn 1.4 million cubic feet of natural gas a day from eight oil wells, Commissioner Tom Fitzsimmons said, “If they don’t find a location to put that gas into a sales pipe and send off to market, then they should anticipate not producing the oil that’s associated with it.”

The Commission gave Cirque until this week’s meeting to make a plan for selling the gas. But when their docket came up at Tuesday's meeting, attorney Tom Throne told the Commission that as of February 26, Cirque no longer owned any of the oil wells, and that a new company, Samson Energy, was now asking for permission to flare. Samson’s management told the Commission that since the company had owned the wells for just 12 days, it didn’t yet have a plan to curb flaring. Samson then asked the Commission to double the volume it’s allowed to flare, to 3.3 million cubic feet a day. 

Several commissioners expressed reservations, including Governor Matt Mead, who said that for neighboring homeowners, whether it's Cirque or Samson, the flares are a nuisance. But ultimately the Commissioners voted unanimously to allow Samson to burn up to 3 million cubic feet a day—enough to power roughly 15,000 average US homes for a day.

Jill Morrison, with the Powder River Basin Resource Council, says it’s hypocritical for the Commission to allow companies to burn natural gas while simultaneously arguing that if the distance—or setback—between wells and homes is greater than 500 feet, it would create waste.

“We don’t have proof that a setback would be a waste of resources, but we definitely have proof that flaring would be a waste of resources,” she said.

The Commission required Samson to provide monthly progress reports about its plans to capture the gas and to have a final plan by May.

Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson says there are currently 53 oil wells in the state authorized to flare more than 60,000 cubic feet a day. In Laramie County alone, the Casper Star-Tribune reports that requests for flaring jumped from 760 million cubic feet in 2013 to 2.2 billion cubic feet in 2014.