Friday, June 15, 2012

North Dakota Is Number Two

If you're not from these parts, you may not know that North Dakota is in the midst of a huge oil boom, driven by newer methods that make it possible to get at oil that wasn't accessible with traditional drilling.

That has led to a push for more pipelines, as the Star Tribune reported today. The state is being transformed by the drilling, with a shortage of housing and all the other social issues that come along with a sudden huge influx of male workers. (The solution to the housing shortage is called a man camp, believe it or not.)

But the thing the Strib told me that I didn't already know is that North Dakota has surpassed Alaska as an oil-producing state, second now only to Texas. Both of those facts surprised me; I would have thought Alaska was number one, with Texas a fading second, but I guess not. Probably Texas is using the same new drilling methods to get at deeper wells.

North Dakota is now producing 600,000 barrels of oil a day, and estimates of how many barrels of oil are in the Bakken formation that lies beneath the state keep going up. What gets less coverage is the ecological effect of the drilling, which relies on hydraulic fracturing. According to ProPublica,
...oil companies in North Dakota reported more than 1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids in 2011, about as many as in the previous two years combined. Many more illicit releases went unreported, state regulators acknowledge, when companies dumped truckloads of toxic fluid along the road or drained waste pits illegally.

State officials say most of the releases are small. But in several cases, spills turned out to be far larger than initially thought, totaling millions of gallons. Releases of brine, which is often laced with carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals, have wiped out aquatic life in streams and wetlands and sterilized farmland. The effects on land can last for years, or even decades.

Compounding such problems, state regulators have often been unable — or unwilling — to compel energy companies to clean up their mess, our reporting showed.

Under North Dakota regulations, the agencies that oversee drilling and water safety can sanction companies that dump or spill waste, but they seldom do: They have issued fewer than 50 disciplinary actions for all types of drilling violations, including spills, over the past three years.
The best information on what's happening in North Dakota comes from reporter Todd Melby, who is out there for the next year or so reporting for Black Gold Boom, a project of Prairie Public broadcasting.

1 comment:

Ms Sparrow said...

On and on it goes, and where it stops, nobody knows.