Theses Doctoral

Essays on the Regulation and Remote Sensing of Natural Gas Flaring

Lee, Ruiwen

Natural gas flaring from oil production is a pervasive yet understudied environmental issue. Recently available satellite imagery of gas flares has increased public awareness and concern over the severity and ubiquity of the problem. In the US, the relatively recent combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling sparked the shale boom, leading to hundreds of thousands of wells being drilled within a decade, often in close proximity to residential populations. A major oil state that has emerged from the shale boom is North Dakota. In 2014, state regulators introduced a policy to limit the percentage of produced gas that oil-extracting companies are allowed to flare. Like many other places where flaring takes place, flared volumes are reported by oil companies themselves. What was the effect of North Dakota’s regulation on gas flaring according to self-reported and satellite data? What was the effect of the regulation on self-reporting behavior? In such a tight oil setting, how well does the prevailing satellite product used to monitor gas flares perform? This dissertation uses new data and methodologies from several disciplines to study these important questions around gas flaring. The results find that the predominant satellite product does not perform well in the on-shore oil production context. While regulation has reduced flaring in a major oil state, the reduction is smaller than thought because of underreporting by oil well operators. Further, the underreporting is associated with political
economy and corporate culture factors.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sustainable Development
Thesis Advisors
Heal, Geoffrey M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 30, 2020