Amer­i­can oil fields such as the Bakken are com­par­a­tively un­der-reg­u­lated on the en­vi­ron­ment. Why then do the Cana­dian oil sands get la­beled as “dirty?”

Alberta Oil - - REPORT ON THE U.S. - By Todd Coyne


Amer­ica doesn’t come from Al­berta but from the Placerita oil field in the heart of Los An­ge­les County, Cal­i­for­nia. It gen­er­ates about twice the lev­els of up­stream emis­sions per bar­rel as Al­berta’s oil sands and is just one of more than a dozen fields in the state that crank out higher per-bar­rel vol­umes of green­house gases. And yet even though it’s lo­cated just a short drive from Hol­ly­wood, you won’t see any celebri­ties car­ry­ing protest plac­ards along the ad­ja­cent Sierra High­way or on the canyon trails that bor­der the field.


Placerita’s size. At just 30 mil­lion bar­rels in re­serve, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial es­ti­mates, the Placerita field is dwarfed by Al­berta’s mas­sive oil sands re­source. But when con­sid­ered along­side all the other U.S. oil fields that con­trib­ute more pol­lu­tion per­bar­rel than Cana­dian oil blends, it raises the ques­tion of why we don’t know more about the emis­sions pro­files of some of the most sub­stan­tial – and, po­ten­tially, the most sub­stan­tially dirty – fields in the U.S.

Take, for in­stance, the Bakken. While to­day Al­berta is tough­en­ing up its en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions in the oil sands – al­ready one of the most highly mon­i­tored hy­dro­car­bon de­posits in the world – North Dakota is ac­tu­ally go­ing the other way on reg­u­la­tory. In Oc­to­ber, the state walked back a pro­gram meant to pre­vent oil com­pa­nies from waste­fully flar­ing off nat­u­ral gas at the well­head. They de­cided in­stead to give cred­its to those com­pa­nies that meet the goals – cred­its that can be cashed in to off­set the times when they don’t – and ig­nore those com­pa­nies that fall short.

It was the se­cond time in a month that state reg­u­la­tors voted to re­lax rules aimed at curb­ing the amount of byprod­uct gas that Bakken oil com­pa­nies have to flare off be­cause of a lack of lo­cal pipe­lines and stor­age. In Septem­ber, the North Dakota In­dus­trial Com­mis­sion, a three-mem­ber reg­u­la­tory panel led by state gov­er­nor Jack Dal­rym­ple, ex­tended by 10 months a dead­line for oil com­pa­nies to re­duce flar­ing, now set for Novem­ber 2016. Un­der the new tar­get, pro­duc­ers will be called on to limit flar­ing to 15 per cent of all pro­duced gas per well, as op­posed to the pre­vi­ous tar­get of 22 per cent. That’s a vast im­prove­ment over the state’s pro­duc­tionto-flar­ing ra­tio of just four years ago, when more than one-third of all nat­u­ral gas was burned at the well­head. Still,

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