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Add To DockMoth to the Flame

The oil patch is booming in North Dakota, catching the attention of many, including a native man. But, he’s not interested in the black gold, so much as he is a yellow flame. He’s come back to capture what other oilmen consider a waste product.

The oil reserves in North Dakota lie in a formation known as the Bakken and may hold as much as 400 billion barrels of oil – 25 times larger than the reserves of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  The discovery has producers flocking to the play to drill.

As they produce the oil and bring it to the surface, natural gas is also produced. This is called casinghead gas or associated gas. In the past, the natural gas could not be profitably sold due to the lack of transmission pipelines, and was simply burned at the oil field in a process known as flaring.

Growing concerns of increasing greenhouse-gas emissions have prompted worldwide efforts to reduce gas flaring. Many countries are even outlawing the practice. In other places, the gas is re-injected into the formation to recover later as natural gas. This re-injection also helps in better oil recovery.

But, for North Dakota native Mark Wald, the casinghead gas is the way to power the future. In a story in the Grand Forks Herald, he explains why he set out to turn this waste into a profitable resource.

“I think everybody sees the tremendous waste and don’t understand why it’s happening. I see tremendous potential,” said Mark Wald.

His big idea: capture the gas, run it through a generator and create electricity to pump power to nearby transmission lines and into the power grid. Thus, was born Blaise Energy, Inc.

According to the report in the Herald, Wald says he can capture 600 million cubic feet of natural gas from well sites and turn it into 5 megawatts of electricity. It’s enough to power about 5,000 homes.

Wald calls it a win-win… here he is again in the Herald story:

“It’s really a win for the local co-ops because they are starved for power in some parts, and for oil producers, it shows some proactive stewardship on their part,” he said.

Wald definitely has the attention of state officials who awarded him a $375,000 grant earlier this year.

In 2008, nearly one-third of natural gas produced in North Dakota had to be flared because there were not sufficient pipelines or transportation systems to get the natural gas to the market. At present, only 17 percent is being flared.

The state is working on a billion dollars worth of infrastructure improvements to create the needed pipelines to solve the need for flaring. However, the state says gaps will still exist and not all sites will have access to pipelines. That’s where they believe Wald’s work will be most effective.

He agrees:

“We’re focusing on the greatest problematic areas of flaring, away from where the pipeline infrastructure is or will be,” he said. “We’re targeting sites that are already electrified, most times the grid is there.”

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“I think everybody sees the tremendous waste and don’t understand why it’s happening. I see tremendous potential.”