Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

April 17, 2022

EPA must ban routine flaring to protect communities by Lisa Deville

Flares light up the landscape after sunset on an oil patch in the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation on Oct. 27, 2021. North Dakota’s 2014 gas capture plan attempted to reduce flaring in the state, including on tribal land. Credit: Isaac Stone Simonelli/Howard Center for Investigative Journalism

EPA must ban routine flaring to protect communities

By Lisa Deville, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara
The Hill
Republished with permission 
Censored News

For too long, oil and gas companies have been allowed to waste the natural resources of tribal nations through the wasteful practice of routine venting and flaring methane, which costs tribes millions of dollars in tax revenue and royalties, pollutes our air and threatens our climate.

Now, as energy prices soar to record highs, and new data from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that we are on the path toward a climate catastrophe, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must take action. It’s time to put the health and safety of communities first, and finally hold oil and gas companies accountable by banning routine flaring and venting.

Methane is a potent climate pollutant with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the near term. Even though methane pollution accounts for one-quarter of today’s global warming, and other pollution released alongside methane can cause serious harm to public health, polluters in the oil and gas industry continue to practice routine flaring across the country without consequence — including in my own backyard.

I am a proud citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes. I have lived my whole life in Mandaree, North Dakota on the Fort Berthold Reservation. This land is sacred to my family, and the generations of tribal communities who have called it home. Unfortunately, our land is also home to more than 1,500 active oil and gas wells — which flare methane every single day.

In 2019, oil and gas operators vented or flared approximately 150 billion cubic feet of methane or about $400 million worth of natural gas on federal and tribal lands. That is enough natural gas to meet the needs of 2.1 million households, which is nearly as many households as there are in New Mexico, North Dakota Utah and Wyoming combined.

This waste costs taxpayers more than $50 million in federal royalty revenue, about half of which goes to states and tribes. These revenues that could fund local government programs, our school system, infrastructure projects and health and emergency services — are going up in flames. At my home in Mandaree, I can see gas flares in every direction I look. They sound like the roaring of a jet engine, and light up the night sky. Every year, I watch as polluters burn hundreds of millions of dollars worth of natural gas on tribal land — wasting revenue my community needs.

Flaring costs communities like mine millions in lost revenue — it costs us our health and safety, too. When oil and gas companies flare, they release methane and other toxic pollutants like benzene, which can worsen asthma, disrupt lung development in children, increase the risk of cancer, cause immune system damage and developmental problems.

The health of people across the MHA Nation is suffering. Earlier this month, the Journal of Public Economics reported that a 1 percent increase in flaring led to a 0.73 percent increase in the respiratory-related hospital visitation rates in my home state of North Dakota. The study also confirms that flaring operations disproportionately affect economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color. All this suffering — and for what?

Even the oil and gas industry recognizes that flaring is dangerous and wasteful. Exxon Mobil has pledged to stop routine flaring across the Permian Basin by the end of this year, and the World Bank has set a goal to end flaring worldwide by 2030. States that work closely with the oil and gas industry, like Alaska, Colorado and New Mexico have already moved to ban routine venting and flaring, but there is simply no substitute for federal leadership.Will NATO defy Putin and allow Finland and Sweden to join?By now it’s clear: Sanctions are not stopping Putin

Earlier this year, Mark Fox, chairman of the MHA Nation’s Tribal Business Council, told journalists that there is “a lot of promise” in capturing, instead of burning and wasting natural gas on our land. He’s right. But states like Alaska, Colorado and New Mexico cannot continue to fight this battle alone.

The Bureau of Land Management has a trust responsibility to prevent the waste of our resources. And just as important, the Environmental Protection Agency has the power to protect our air. Action by both agencies is critical to protect communities like mine. What we don’t have is time. We need federal action to ban routine venting and flaring, and we need it now.

Lisa DeVille is a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation and a charter member of Fort Berthold POWER, a group formed to protect the land, water and air on the Fort Berthold Reservation. She is also a member of the Dakota Resource Council, whose mission is to promote the sustainable use of North Dakota’s natural resources and agriculture.

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