Interior Secretary Shows Her Energy Savvy in North Dakota

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, right, and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., tour a drilling rig in North Dakota operated by Norwegian company Statoil.
National Journal
Amy Harder
Add to Briefcase
Amy Harder
Aug. 11, 2013, 8 a.m.

WIL­LIS­TON, N.D. — Seated around a table in a ware­house next to a drilling rig next to a neigh­bor­hood, In­teri­or Sec­ret­ary Sally Jew­ell led with something that went over well in this oil-rich crowd.

“I have fracked wells be­fore,” said Jew­ell, who is known most for her eight years as CEO of out­doors re­tail­er REI. Less well known is the fact that she star­ted her ca­reer in the late 1970s work­ing in the oil in­dustry in Col­or­ado, Alaska, and Ok­lahoma.

“It is a great crude you pro­duce here,” Jew­ell said to ex­ec­ut­ives from Con­tin­ent­al Re­sources, the com­pany whose drilling rig she was tour­ing that day.

At the re­quest of North Dakota’s two sen­at­ors, Re­pub­lic­an John Ho­even and Demo­crat Heidi Heitkamp, Jew­ell vis­ited last week to see firsthand the oil drilling that’s turned up­side down not just the way of life in North Dakota, but the en­tire coun­try’s en­ergy agenda by dis­pla­cing for­eign oil im­ports.

In her open­ing re­marks be­fore the tour, Jew­ell com­men­ded Har­old Hamm, founder, chair­man, and CEO of Ok­lahoma-based Con­tin­ent­al Re­sources.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions on what you’ve done here in the Bakken,” Jew­ell told Hamm, re­fer­ring to the shale-rock form­a­tion where the oil drilling is oc­cur­ring. “You’re a pi­on­eer.”

Hamm’s com­pany has the biggest foot­print in the Bakken, drilling 11 per­cent of the form­a­tion, which spans an area the size of West Vir­gin­ia. Hamm has made mil­lions drilling for oil in this vast state: He’s worth $11.3 bil­lion and ranked 32nd on the For­bes list of richest Amer­ic­ans.

“It took us a while to con­vince people this is here to stay,” Hamm said to the group of al­most 40 people — a mix of In­teri­or of­fi­cials, oil ex­ec­ut­ives, and a hand­ful of re­port­ers.

Jew­ell’s ex­per­i­ence in the oil in­dustry was praised by those in the in­dustry and North Dakota law­makers alike throughout the time she was tour­ing the state.

“She comes with so much cred­ib­il­ity in this field that that is really to her ad­vant­age and the pres­id­ent’s ad­vant­age,” Heitkamp said in an in­ter­view after Jew­ell’s vis­it. “She can ask the tough ques­tions that need to be asked but also un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate the tech­no­logy.”

When it came to one par­tic­u­lar top­ic — meth­ane emis­sions — Jew­ell asked tough ques­tions all day long. “A good part of what we’re here for is to learn about that,” Jew­ell said about meth­ane flar­ing.

With so much oil be­ing de­veloped in the Bakken over the last few years, much of the nat­ur­al gas that’s in­ad­vert­ently with­drawn has been flared off, in part be­cause the in­fra­struc­ture doesn’t yet ex­ist to pro­cess and trans­port the gas.

Not only is the gas be­ing wasted, it is dis­persed in­to the at­mo­sphere as meth­ane, a green­house gas 20 times more po­tent than car­bon di­ox­ide (that is, its im­pact on warm­ing the plan­et is much more in­tense in a short­er amount of time).

About a third of all wells in the Bakken are flared, and that’s a stat­ist­ic on dis­play driv­ing around the re­gion. The meth­ane flares look sim­il­ar to an Olympic torch or, in some cases, a camp­fire.

As a pre­view of her fo­cus for the rest of the day, Jew­ell broached the top­ic of flar­ing meth­ane early on dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion in the ware­house. It’s “really im­port­ant in terms of emis­sions but also roy­al­ties to the state,” she said.

Judging by the ques­tions Jew­ell asked throughout the day to ex­ec­ut­ives of Con­tin­ent­al and also Statoil, a Nor­we­gi­an com­pany whose drilling sites she vis­ited later in the day, meth­ane emis­sions were fore­most on her mind.

She was in her ele­ment, ask­ing ques­tions only a trained pet­ro­leum en­gin­eer like her­self would un­der­stand.

“How wet is your gas?” Jew­ell asked of a Con­tin­ent­al pet­ro­leum ex­pert while walk­ing around the com­pany’s drilling site. She then con­firmed that Con­tin­ent­al was, in fact, cap­tur­ing all of the meth­ane at this par­tic­u­lar rig. Con­tin­ent­al flares no more than 10 per­cent of its nat­ur­al gas, Hamm says.

En­vir­on­ment­al­ists, though, say any­thing above a few per­cent is too much giv­en its po­ten­tial to ex­acer­bate glob­al warm­ing.

Jew­ell’s vis­it to a Statoil fa­cil­ity in­cluded a look at some of the latest tech­no­logy that en­ables pro­du­cers to cap­ture nat­ur­al gas for use rather than waste it. None of Statoil’s sites were flar­ing gas either. Jew­ell’s tour didn’t in­clude any sites that were flar­ing gas, but such rigs are eas­ily vis­ible from the road.

“One of the prob­lems with flar­ing is you end up with a lot of gas that ba­sic­ally comes at you with very high pres­sure and that makes it very dif­fi­cult to plot a gath­er­ing sys­tem,” said Heitkamp, who also has ex­tens­ive ex­per­i­ence in the oil in­dustry. “You don’t need to ex­plain that to her; she gets it.”

That know­ledge will be im­port­ant for Jew­ell, as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is in the early stages of draft­ing reg­u­la­tions to con­trol flar­ing of meth­ane and oth­er as­pects of drilling and hy­draul­ic frac­tur­ing on fed­er­al lands.

The oil ex­ec­ut­ives show­ing Jew­ell around were care­ful to stress that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment should not reg­u­late in either case, com­ments that Jew­ell took with a very slight nod of the head. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is, after all, mov­ing ahead to reg­u­late in both cases.

What We're Following See More »
ON SANCTUARY CITIES
White House Attacks Judge Who Suspended Executive Order
18 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

U.S. District Judge William Orrick Tuesday blocked the Trump administration from enforcing part of an executive order calling for the end of federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities. The decision was followed by a scathing rebuke from the White House, a precedent-breaking activity which with this White House has had no qualms. A White House statement called the decision an "egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge." The statement was followed by an inaccurate Wednesday morning tweetstorm from Trump, which railed against the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. While Judge Orrick district falls within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit, Orrick himself does not serve on the Ninth Circuit.

MAY BRING CONSERVATIVES ON BOARD, BUT WHAT ABOUT MODERATES?
House GOP Circulates Amendment on Preexisting Conditions
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"House Republicans are circulating the text of an amendment to their ObamaCare replacement bill that they believe could bring many conservatives on board. According to legislative text of the amendment," drafted by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), "the measure would allow states to apply for waivers to repeal one of ObamaCare’s core protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Conservatives argue the provision drives up premiums for healthy people, but Democrats—and many more moderate Republicans—warn it would spark a return to the days when insurance companies could charge sick people exorbitantly high premiums."

AT LEAST 30 TO BE ASSESSED
Trump to Order Review of National Monuments
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

President Trump on Wednesday "will order a review of national monuments created over the past 20 years with an aim toward rescinding or resizing some of them—part of a broader push to reopen areas to drilling, mining, and other development." Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters on Tuesday said he'd be reviewing about 30 monuments.

Source:
EMERGING BUDGET FRAMEWORK?
Dems Proposes Obamacare-for-Defense Deal
17 hours ago
THE LATEST

"An emerging government funding deal would see Democrats agree to $15 billion in additional military funding in exchange for the GOP agreeing to fund healthcare subsidies, according to two congressional officials briefed on the talks. Facing a Friday deadline to pass a spending bill and avert a shutdown, Democrats are willing to go halfway to President Trump’s initial request of $30 billion in supplemental military funding."

Source:
WHITE HOUSE BLOCKING DOC REQUEST
Michael Flynn Remains A Russian-Sized Problem
17 hours ago
BREAKING

The Michael Flynn story is not going away for the White House as it tries to refocus its attention. The White House has denied requests from the House Oversight Committee for information and documents regarding payments that the former national security adviser received from Russian state television station RT and Russian firms. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Elijah Cummings also said that Flynn failed to report these payments on his security clearance application. White House legislative director Marc Short argued that the documents requested are either not in the possession of the White House or contain sensitive information he believes is not applicable to the committee's stated investigation.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login