Journalism in the Public Interest

North Dakota’s Oil Boom Brings Damage Along With Prosperity

Booming oil production has brought a flood of toxic waste to North Dakota. Energy companies reported more than 1,000 releases of oil and wastewater last year alone.

An oil well near Ross, N.D., on Aug. 23, 2011. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

June 13: This post has been corrected and updated.

Oil drilling has sparked a frenzied prosperity in Jeff Keller's formerly quiet corner of western North Dakota in recent years, bringing an infusion of jobs and reviving moribund local businesses.

But Keller, a natural resource manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, has seen a more ominous effect of the boom, too: Oil companies are spilling and dumping drilling waste onto the region's land and into its waterways with increasing regularity.

Hydraulic fracturing — the controversial process behind the spread of natural gas drilling — is enabling oil companies to reach previously inaccessible reserves in North Dakota, triggering a turnaround not only in the state's fortunes, but also in domestic energy production. North Dakota now ranks second behind only Texas in oil output nationwide.

The downside is waste — lots of it. Companies produce millions of gallons of salty, chemical-infused wastewater, known as brine, as part of drilling and fracking each well. Drillers are supposed to inject this material thousands of feet underground into disposal wells, but some of it isn't making it that far.

According to data obtained by 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.

Keller has filed several complaints with the state during this time span after observing trucks dumping wastewater and spotting evidence of a spill in a field near his home. He was rebuffed or ignored every time, he said.

"There's no enforcement," said Keller, 50, an avid outdoorsman who has spent his career managing Lake Sakakawea, a reservoir created by damming the Missouri River. "None."

State officials say they rely on companies to clean up spills voluntarily, and that in most cases, they do. Mark Bohrer, who oversees spill reports for the Department of Mineral Resources, the agency that regulates drilling, said the number of spills is acceptable given the pace of drilling and that he sees little risk of long-term damage.

Kris Roberts, who responds to spills for the Health Department, which protects state waters, agreed, but acknowledged that the state does not have the manpower to prevent or respond to illegal dumping.

"It's happening often enough that we see it as a significant problem," he said. "What's the solution? Catching them. What's the problem? Catching them."

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, a lobbying group, said the industry is doing what it can to minimize spills and their impacts.

"You're going to have spills when you have more activity," he said. "I would think North Dakotans would say the industry is doing a good job."

In response to rising environmental concerns related to drilling waste, North Dakota's legislature passed a handful of new regulations this year, including a rule that bars storing wastewater in open pits.

Still, advocates for landowners say they have seen little will, at either the state or federal level, to impose limits that could slow the pace of drilling.

The Obama administration is facilitating drilling projects on federal land in western North Dakota by expediting environmental reviews. North Dakota's Gov. Jack Dalrymple has urged energy companies to see his administration as a "faithful and long-term partner."

"North Dakota's political leadership is still in the mold where a lot of our oil and gas policy reflects a strong desire to have another oil boom," said Mark Trechock, who headed the Dakota Resource Council, a landowner group that has pushed for stronger oversight, until his retirement this year. "Well, we got it now."

Reaching 'the Crazy Point'

Keller's office in Williston is as good a spot as any to see the impacts of the oil boom.

The tiny prefab shack — cluttered with mounted fish, piles of antlers and a wolf pelt Keller bought in Alaska — is wedged between a levee that holds back Missouri River floodwaters and a new oil well, topped by a blazing gas flare. Just beyond the oil well sits an intersection where Keller estimates he saw an accident a week during one stretch last year due to increased traffic from drilling.

Keller describes the changes to his hometown in a voice just short of a yell, as if he's competing with nearby engine noise. Local grocery stores can barely keep shelves stocked and the town movie theater is so crowded it seats people in the aisle, he said. The cost of housing has skyrocketed, with some apartments fetching rents similar to those in New York City.

"With the way it is now," Keller said, "you're getting to the crazy point."

Oil companies are drilling upwards of 200 wells each month in northwestern North Dakota, an area roughly twice the size of New Jersey.

North Dakota is pumping more than 575,000 barrels of oil a day now, more than double what the state produced two years ago. Expanded drilling in the state has helped overall U.S. oil production grow for the first time in a quarter century, stoking hopes for greater energy independence.

It has also reinvigorated North Dakota's once-stagnant economy. Unemployment sits at 3 percent. The activity has reversed a population decline that began in the mid-1980s, when the last oil boom went bust.

The growth has come at a cost, however. At a conference on oil field infrastructure in October, one executive noted that McKenzie County, which sits in the heart of the oil patch and had a population of 6,360 people in 2010, required nearly $200 million in road repairs.

The number of spill reports, which generally come from the oil companies themselves, nearly doubled from 2010 to 2011. Energy companies report their spills to the Department of Mineral Resources, which shares them with the Health Department. The two agencies work together to investigate incidents.

In December, a stack of reports a quarter-inch thick piled up on Kris Roberts' desk. He received 34 new cases in the first week of that month alone.

"Is it a big issue?" he said. "Yes, it is."

The Health Department has added three staffers to handle the influx and the Department of Mineral Resources is increasing its workforce by 30 percent, but Roberts acknowledges they can't investigate every report.

Even with the new hires, the Department of Mineral Resources still has fewer field inspectors than agencies in other drilling states. Oklahoma, for example, which has comparable drilling activity, has 58 inspectors to North Dakota's 19.

Of the 1,073 releases reported last year, about 60 percent involved oil and one-third spread brine. In about two-thirds of the cases, material was not contained to the accident site and leaked into the ground or waterways.

But the official data gives only a partial picture, Roberts said, missing an unknown number of unreported incidents.

"One, five, 10, 100? If it didn't get reported, how do you count them?" he said.

He said truckers often dump their wastewater rather than wait in line at injection wells. The Department of Mineral Resources asks companies how much brine their wells produce and how much they dispose of as waste, but its inspectors don't audit those numbers. Short of catching someone in the act, there's no way to stop illegal dumping.

The state also has no real estimate for how much fluid spills out accidentally from tanks, pipes, trucks and other equipment. Companies are supposed to report spill volumes, but officials acknowledge the numbers are often inexact or flat-out wrong. In 40 cases last year, the company responsible didn't know how much had spilled so it simply listed the volume of fluid as zero.

In one case last July, workers for Petro Harvester, a small, Texas-based oil company, noticed a swath of dead vegetation in a field near one of the company's saltwater disposal lines. The company reported the spill the next day, estimating that 12,600 gallons of brine had leaked.

When state and county officials came to assess the damage, however, they found evidence of a much larger accident. The leak, which had gone undetected for days or weeks, had sterilized about 24 acres of land. Officials later estimated the spill to be at least 2 million gallons of brine, Roberts said, which would make it the largest ever in the state.

Yet state records still put the volume at 12,600 gallons and Roberts sees no reason to change it.

"It's almost like rubbing salt in a raw wound," Roberts said, criticizing efforts to tabulate a number as "bean counting." Changing a report would not change reality, nor would it help anyone, he added. "If we try to go back and revisit the past over and over and over again, what's it going to do? Nothing good."

In a written statement, Petro Harvester said tests showed the spill had not contaminated groundwater and that it would continue monitoring the site for signs of damage. State records show the company hired a contractor to cover the land with 40 truckloads of a chemical that leaches salt from the soil.

Nearly a year later, however, even weeds won't grow in the area, said Darwin Peterson, who farms the land. While Petro Harvester has promised to compensate him for lost crops, Peterson said he hasn't heard from the company in months and he doesn't expect the land to be usable for years. "It's pretty devastating," he said.

Little Enforcement

The Department of Mineral Resources and the Health Department have the authority to sanction companies that spill or dump fluids, but they rarely do.

The Department of Mineral Resources has issued just 45 enforcement actions over the last three years. Spokeswoman Alison Ritter could not say how many of those were for spills or releases, as opposed to other drilling violations, or how many resulted in fines. Ritter said case files containing this information could be reviewed, but only in person in the agency’s office in Bismarck, N.D.

The Health Department has taken just one action against an oil company in the past three years, citing Continental Resources for oil and brine spills that turned two streams into temporary toxic dumps. The department initially fined Continental $328,500, plus about $14,000 for agency costs. Ultimately, however, the state settled and Continental paid just $35,000 in fines.

The agency has not yet penalized Petro Harvester for the July spill, thought it has issued a notice of violation and could impose a fine in the future, Roberts said, one of several spill-related enforcement actions the agency is considering.

Derrick Braaten, a Bismarck lawyer whose firm represents dozens of farmers and landowner groups, said his clients often get little support from regulators when oil companies damage their property.

State officials step in in the largest cases, he said, but let smaller ones slide. Landowners can sue, but most prefer to take whatever drillers offer rather than taking their chances in court.

"The oil company will say, that's worth $400 an acre, so here's $400 for ruining that acre," Braaten said.

Daryl Peterson, a client of Braaten's who is not related to Darwin Peterson, said a series of drilling waste releases stretching back 15 years have rendered several acres unusable of the 2,000 or so he farms. The state has not compelled the companies that caused the damage to repair it, he said. Peterson hasn't wanted to spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to haul out the dirt and replace it, so the land lies fallow.

"I pay taxes on that land," he said.

At least 15 North Dakota residents, frustrated with state officials' inaction, have taken drilling-related complaints to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the last two years, records show.

Last September, for example, a rancher near Williston told the EPA that Brigham Oil and Gas had plowed through the side of a waste pit, sending fluid into the pond his cattle drink from and a nearby creek. When the rancher called Brigham to complain, he said, an employee told him this was "the way they do business."

A spokeswoman for Statoil, which acquired Brigham, said the company stores only fresh water in open pits, not wastewater, and that "we can't remember ever having responded in such a manner" to a report about a spill.

Federal officials can offer little relief.

Congress has largely delegated oversight of oil field spills to the states. EPA spokesman Richard Mylott said the agency investigates complaints about releases on federal lands, but refers complaints involving private property to state regulators.

The EPA handed the complaint about Brigham to an official with North Dakota's Health Department, who said he had already spoken to the company.

"They said this was an isolated occurrence, this is not how they handle frac water and it would not happen again," the official wrote to the EPA. "As far as we are concerned, this complaint is closed."

Salting the Earth

Six years ago, a four-inch saltwater pipeline ruptured just outside Linda Monson's property line, leaking about a million gallons of salty wastewater.

As it cascaded down a hill and into Charbonneau Creek, which cuts through Monson's pasture, the spill deposited metals and carcinogenic hydrocarbons in the soil. The toxic brew wiped out the creek's fish, turtles and other life, reaching 15 miles downstream.

After suing Zenergy Inc., the oil company that owns the line, Monson reached a settlement that restricts what she can say about the incident.

"When this first happened, it pretty much consumed my life," Monson said. "Now I don't even want to think about it."

The company has paid a $70,000 fine and committed to cleaning the site, but the case shows how difficult the cleanup can be. When brine leaks into the ground, the sodium binds to the soil, displacing other minerals and inhibiting plants' ability to absorb nutrients and water. Short of replacing the soil, the best option is to try to speed the natural flushing of the system, which can take decades.

Zenergy has tried both. According to a Department of Mineral Resources report, the company has spent more than $3 million hauling away dirt and pumping out contaminated groundwater — nearly 31 million gallons as of December 2010, the most recent data available.

But more than a dozen acres of Monson's pasture remain fenced off and out of use. The cattle no longer drink from the creek, which was their main water source. Zenergy dug a well to replace it.

Shallow groundwater in the area remains thousands of times saltier than it should be and continues to leak into the stream and through the ground, contaminating new areas.

There's little understanding of what long-term impacts hundreds of such releases could be having on western North Dakota's land and water, said Micah Reuber.

Until last year, Reuber was the environmental contaminant specialist in North Dakota for the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees wetlands and waterways.

Reuber quit after growing increasingly frustrated with the inadequate resources devoted to the position. Responding to oil field spills was supposed to be a small part of his job, but it came to consume all of his time.

"It didn't seem like we were keeping pace with it at all," he said. "It got to be demoralizing."

Reuber said no agency, federal or state, has the money or staff to study the effects of drilling waste releases in North Dakota. The closest thing is a small ongoing federal study across the border in Montana, where scientists are investigating how decades of oil production have affected the underground water supply for the city of Poplar.

Joanna Thamke, a groundwater specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Montana, started mapping contamination from drilling 20 years ago. She estimated it had spread through about 12 square miles of the aquifer, which is the only source of drinking water in the area. Over the years, brine had leaked through old well bores, buried waste pits and aging tanks and pipes.

In the Poplar study and others, Thamke has found that plumes of contaminated groundwater can take decades to dissipate and sometimes move to new areas.

"What we found is the plumes, after two decades, have not gone away," she said. "They've spread out."

Poplar's water supply is currently safe to drink, but the EPA has said it will become too salty as the contamination spreads. In March, the agency ordered three oil companies to treat the water or to find another source.

North Dakota officials are quick to point out that oversight and regulations are stronger today than they were when drilling began in the area in the 1950s. One significant difference is that waste pits, where oil companies store and dispose of the rock and debris produced during drilling, are now lined with plastic to prevent leaching into the ground.

New rules, effective April 1, require drillers in North Dakota to divert liquid waste to tanks instead of pits. Until now, drillers could store the liquid in pits for up to a year before pumping it out in order to bury the solids on site. The rule would prevent a repeat of the spring of 2011, when record snowmelt and flooding caused dozens of pits to overflow their banks.

But Reuber worries that the industry and regulators are repeating past mistakes. Not long before he left the Fish and Wildlife Service, he found a set of old slides showing waste pits and spills from decades ago.

"They looked almost exactly like photos I had taken," he said. "There's a spill into a creek bottom in the Badlands and it was sitting there with no one cleaning it up and containing it. And yeah, I got a photo like that, too."

Keller has grown so dispirited by the changes brought by the boom that he is considering retiring after 30 years with the Army Corps and moving away from Williston. He runs a side business in scrap metal that would supplement his pension.

Still, determined to protect the area, he keeps alerting regulators whenever he spots evidence that oil companies have dumped or spilled waste.

Last July, when he saw signs of a spill near his home, Keller notified the Department of Mineral Resources and sent pictures showing a trail of dead grass to an acquaintance at the EPA regional office in Denver. The brown swath led from a well site into a creek.

If the spills continued, he warned the EPA in an email, they could "kill off the entire watershed."

EPA officials said they spoke with Keller, but did not follow up on the incident beyond that. The state never responded, Keller said. The site remained untested and was never cleaned up.

"There was no restoration work whatsoever," Keller said.

Correction: This story stated that Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman Alison Ritter could not say how many of the 45 enforcement actions taken by the agency over the last three years were for spills or releases, as opposed to other drilling violations, or how many resulted in fines. It should have added that Ritter said case files containing this information could be reviewed, but only in person in the agency’s office in Bismarck, N.D. The story also said that, last July, when Jeff Keller saw signs of a spill near his home, he notified the Health Department. He notified the Department of Mineral Resources.

Update: North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman Alison Ritter submitted the following statement in response to this story yesterday (we have added editor’s notes where appropriate for accuracy):

The remarkable growth in western North Dakota’s oil and gas industry has created great benefits and opportunities for our state, and significant challenges as well.

The state is committed to protecting the environment and to meeting other impacts created by rapid energy development. As part of that commitment, the state Department of Mineral Resources has added staff for greater oversight and the North Dakota Industrial Commission has strengthened the state’s oil and gas regulations to provide greater environmental protections than ever before. The rule changes, which took effect April 1, ban the use of open pits; increased bond requirements, strengthen hydraulic fracturing requirements and mandate the reporting of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process. A two-part news report prepared by New York-based ProPublica and published by the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead on June 10 and 11 included several errors of fact about the state’s role in regulating the oil industry.

1. In the report, Nicholas Kusnetz reported that Oklahoma has comparable drilling activity, but employs 58 inspectors to North Dakota’s 19. What Kusnetz failed to tell readers is that Oklahoma has about 90,000 active wells while North Dakota has less than 7,000 wells, and that well sites – not drilling sites – pose the greatest risk of accidental spills. About 95 percent of spills occur at well sites as opposed to drilling sites.

2. Mr. Kusnetz reported that the Department of Mineral Resources could not provide details regarding rule violations that led to 45 enforcement actions against oil companies. The fact is that Mr. Kusnetz was invited to visit the Department of Mineral Resources where he could review each case file for the information he sought, but he chose not to.

Editor’s note: We have updated the article to reflect this information.

3. Mr. Kusnetz reported that the state has issued only 45 disciplinary actions in the last three years for drilling violations, but what he failed to tell readers is that approximately 99% of all violations have been remedied by the state requiring companies to clean up their spills in an effective and timely manner.

4. Mr. Kusnetz reported that state officials rely on companies to clean up spills voluntarily. North Dakota law mandates that companies clean up spills and no officials from the Department of Mineral Resources suggested otherwise. All spill sites are inspected and enforcement actions are taken when companies fail to clean spills in an effective and timely manner.

5. Mr. Kusnetz reported that Jeff Keller, a natural resource manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has observed trucks illegally dumping wastewater and that Keller also has spotted a spill. Mr. Keller and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have never filed a spill report with the Department of Mineral Resources.

Editor's note: Keller said he reported a spill to the Department of Mineral Resources as well as reporting other incidents to the Health Department.

6. Mr. Kusnetz reported that “Congress has largely delegated oversight of oil field spills to the states.” The EPA operates the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure program, and under federal law cannot delegate any part of this program to state enforcement agencies. State enforcement of the oil industry goes above and beyond federal enforcement.

7. Mr. Kusnetz reported two-thirds of spills were not contained. Data compiled by the Department of Mineral Resources shows that about 30 percent - less than one-third - of all spills were not immediately contained.

Editor’s note: This is not an accurate paraphrasing of the story, which said that in about two-thirds of the cases, spills were not contained “to the accident site.”

8. Official records do not support Mr. Kusnetz’s statement that state regulators “have been unable - or unwilling - to compel companies to clean up their mess.” The state Department of Health utilizes its authority to impose a variety of sanctions to protect the environment, including but not limited to monetary penalties. Most reported spills have been addressed through the completion of onsite inspections and state-mandated remediation. Editor’s note: This is not an accurate quote from the story, which says “state regulators have often been unable — or unwilling — to compel energy companies to clean up their mess.”

9. While most oilfield waste water is properly disposed of in Class II wells, the state Department of Health acknowledges that some illegal disposal does take place. Catching companies or individuals engaged in illegal dumping is difficult. However, the department is increasing its enforcement presence with additional inspectors and modifying its regulations to increase civil penalties.

10. Mr. Kusnetz reported that “the state has no real estimate of the quantity of fluids spilled from tanks, pipe, trucks and other equipment.” The state Department of Health evaluates each spill on a case-by-case basis to determine the specific issues associated with each spill. State records show that more than 70 percent of the spills have involved fluid amounts of 10 barrels or less.

It's important that the people of North Dakota receive factual information as we work together to protect our land, water and air and to support the responsible development of our energy resources.

Lynn Helms, Director, North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources
Dave Glatt, Environmental Health Section Chief, North Dakota Department of Health

Such is the legacy of pro-business, pro-drilling, pro-spilling, pro-killing, anti-EPA Republican reprobates. They con’t care about your children’s future.

They will smile out of one side of their mouth, give you a dangerous, low-paying, back-breaking job for which they will reap windfall profits while poisoning your rivers, streams, lakes and underground water.

And yet, you will continue to trust, love and elect these crooks ad nauseum…with emphasis on the nausea.

Charles Gerhards

June 7, 2012, 2:55 p.m.

My mother was born in 1899 near Russell, KS, Senator Bob Dole’s hometown. Her family farm never had oil, but a lot of oil was taken out from wells all around. Water in the area came from an aquifer, the best tasting and healthy water one could find…......Until some time in the 1950s or 1960s, the water came out contaminated. Thereafter, water came from the Saline River, had to be treated. When I went back there, I tasted coffee made from that water, and it was terrible; whereas before, it tasted better than any I had anywhere else, except in Yellowstone national Park. So, people of western ND, expect your well water to be useless sometime soon. Then question whether all the oil drilling and production was worth it. Thank your Republicans and your government for a job ‘well done’.

Shut up Phil…this is much needed energy.

How about we all cry a river of saline while all our cost go up to be green?  We must go after this, but be responsible!

Here in NC our Senator Bob Rucho is pushing through a law to permit fracking in NC.  I am really worried that we will see contamination like illustrated in this article about North Dakota. 

We do not have the soil structure to store water like in other parts of the US, and the natural gas is very close to the surface.

Lastly, the Mining & Energy Commission that is to have the oversight on legislation to make fracking safe has 9 members, 7 of whom work in the oil industry.  I wonder how they can be objective?

Rape and pillage the land for short-term gain.  That’s all they know.  Because they own the politicians, it will continue.

steven marcinko

June 7, 2012, 3:21 p.m.

When it came to cancer from smoking the good folks at the tobacco companies said there was nothing to worry about and their Republican friends supported them until the very end. Now the good people at these energy companies are saying basically the same thing. They will get their $$$$ and move on leaving a desolate landscape forever scarred by their reckless actions, while lockstep Republicans will be telling us to drill baby drill. I just wish all this fracking was going on in Wasilla Alaska so they to could benefit from the tasty chemical swill that is North Dakota’s drinking water.

Phil has it right.Tory is just part of the sick prosess. 90% reduction of population, it’s the fact, hold on for the ride…........

Stephen Miller

June 7, 2012, 3:28 p.m.

I find it disturbing and sad that people in North Dakota as well as other states that are affected by similar circumstances such this do not mobilize and confront their legislators.

Charles Hudson

June 7, 2012, 4:24 p.m.

The pillaging is bi-partisan.  A mere days after his appointment Interior Secretary Salazar, along with Democratic Senators Conrad and Dorgan were holding a press conference announcing plans to expedite drilling in North Dakota and especially on Indian lands (where I’m from).

It’s OK to be industrious and to capture and use our natural resources but, you have to be careful and not damage our land, water, or air or you will be punished and forced to compensate the owners. This is the way it’s supposed to work. So let them drill but make them pay for any damage that they cause. It’s not OK to make mistakes. Someone has to pay and the ones who made the mistake are responsible for it.

We are slowly poisoning ourselves…

In NY the legislature’s last day for the year is June 21 and after that the NY Senate and NY Assembly greet locals at fairgrounds and parades for the rest of the year.

We watched Pa getting polluted and robbed the last couple of years and we are afraid that the state will start permitting a hydrofracking horizontal well as soon as the politicians are out of there in June of this year.

So far NY has accepted the frack water , the marcellus drill cuttings and we in NY have offered them good water to take to Pa via railroad and basically extinguish the water which can not be “cleaned” - too many complex chemicals etc. 

There are no laws in place in NY and there are no meaningful regulations that can be enforced by a mere 15 gas well inspectors who still have never found the many abandoned old oil and gas wells all over Western NY and a hazard to hydrofracking.

Clearly, NY which is very beautiful with lots of great water in beautiful rivers with vineyards and so forth—this is crazy to wreck it all for a nonrenewable one time treasure that will fizzle out and then what???

May 25, 2012 a complaint was filed at Washington County Pa court:  Haney et al vs Range Resources.  This is a 1800 page document with emails and lab results the main point is that three families living in ancestral homes for several generations with good water found themselves drinking such polluted water that the toxins of Benzene, Toluene and Arsenic was found in all seven of the plaintives urine samples! Range and their 16 subcontractors and false professional engineers screwed up and all details are in the lawsuit which repeatedly emphasizes that they want a jury verdict—not a judge who must raise funds to get elected from guess who—the oil and gas giants.  Often such enbarassing lawsuits get squashed early on with a hefty settlement but for once we get to see all the dirty linen in this one right off the bat in the original complaint.  The industry decided to dump frack fluid from other wells into the impoundment at these families without any permit from state or feds.  Just complete lawlessness. The case is posted on this blog:

The point of all this is that the industry counts on lying and cheating and has no intention of accounting for the volume of brine or frack fluid and transporting the substances via GPS like other trucking industry functions full well and the politicians could demand it if they had honorable intentions.

Alessandro Machi

June 8, 2012, 1:59 a.m.

If I recall correctly, North Dakota also has its own state bank and is the only state to do so and that their state bank has also contributed to their growing economy.

However, if all the bank is doing is giving out money to the oil producers, then North Dakota is headed for heaps of trouble, very discouraging.

Edmund Singleton

June 8, 2012, 3:53 a.m.

Profit vs. clean water…let me see?

Gee Tory and what energy will be needed when the oil/gas is gone?  It’s a declining resource and is not renewable, but the obvious is missed by the conservative mind.

Actually, Paul, natural gas is pretty renewable, just not the way the oil companies go after it.  It’s METHANE.  The stuff produced by pretty much every organism that eats, not to mention low-oxygen combustion.

I’ll grant you that it lacks the overcompensation symbolism of thrusting a shaft into Mother Earth and pumping her full of waste, but it seems like we could be doing this pretty cheaply with negligible environmental impact.

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Phil Esteen.
Yea. Close the EPA and just watch what happens to this country.

Just more bullshit from the left!!!!!!!

Do you people not realize that fracking has been going on for years? And there is nothing “harmful” about it.  Where do you expect to get your energy in the future?  Going green isn’t going to cut it, even though the current administration keeps pushing it, along with their hidden agenda.

Greed kills.

Diane, I agree with you.
WE NEED North-American crude for North-American consumption. Also, we need new jobs. Let’s get busy, pay the land-owners from the funds collected from gas-pump businessmen and move the fracking-cities to safe distance. Don’t worry - fracking is not as bad as small minds may imagine.

Andrew Tyler

June 9, 2012, 5 a.m.

Diane: Two minutes of research on the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing would suffice to show that your claim is total balderdash. We can have a serious discussion about whether the massive ecological damage caused by treating the earth as an infinite gas station and garbage can is justified by the extra energy we get, but not about the fact of the damage itself (discussion about the full and precise extent of the damage is difficult because companies refuse to disclose proprietary information about the chemical brew used in the fracturing process). Your argument (such as it is) is based on the same logic employed by the whiny toddler who reasons: I want it, therefore it’s good. In effect: I want more and more energy to feed my insatiably gluttonous, hyper-consumptive ‘American way of life’, therefore what I want is good, and therefore there’s nothing harmful about the means of getting what I want. Your equally evidence-free remark about a ‘hidden agenda’ is pure conspiratorial partisan gibberish. Both parties have the same agenda, and it’s not hidden.

Shahislam: Same nonsense as Diane: ‘We NEED North-American [sic] crude for North-American [sic] consumption’, therefore any criticisms of the methods used to procure the means for this consumption are disqualified a priori as ‘small-mindedness’. It should also be noted that you contradict your own malarkey by suggesting that fracking ought to be moved for reasons of safety. Why move it if it’s ‘not as bad as small minds may imagine’?

Tory: At least you’re an honest cynic and don’t bother trying to conceal your raw avarice with Kafkaesque hokum about the safety of fracking. Kudos to you.

Randy: What a stunning contribution you’ve made, sir! What a penetrating, thoughtful response! We are all in your debt.

Gudrun Quenzler Scott

June 9, 2012, 8:50 a.m.

The formal complaint of the law case Haney vs Range Resources was submitted May 25 , 2012 in Pa.  and you can find it on the internet. 

Three families are suing.  They live on land owned in their families for several generations and their water was pure and was tested. Now,  seven persons document to show that their urine contains benzene, toluene and arsenic and the family members list similar health symptons such as skin rashes, headache, unable to smell , exhaustion. Their neighborhood is invaded by the dangerous gas hydrogen sulfide and so forth.

The case describes how the 17 subcontractors and unprofessional engineers managed to screw up the containment pond which leaked and then dumped the frack fluid from other wells into that pond without permits among several other crimes. 

  The case is lengthy( total of 1800 pages) but they submit emails and lab reports to back up the case and they demand a jury trial maybe because judges too are accepting oil money to run for reelection etc.

Likely the families will be asked to shut up about their complaints as part of the settlement but meanwhile - we have the case on the internet- and you can read the first 50 pages and get the picture.

We need laws, we need sufficient oversight as both North Dakota and also Pa demonstrates as well as the rest of the fracked places—this is a one time resource and we need to only get it out with care and planning and how about leaving some in the ground for our children who will have wind and solar renewables and will need an occasional fossil fuel assistance when the sun does not shine—that is how Norway uses their gas—together with hydropower and sun and wind.

More specifically. we need a law to account for all frack fluid and brine that is produced, hauled and deposited.  The trucks have GPS and they can do an accountability sheet on the computer as the trucking industry is fully competent to do this with other trucked materials.

Every state needs the law that brine and frack fluid and produced fluid be treated as hazardous material—BEFORE drilling starts.

We are USA- a country with laws! Citizens need to be more active.

If North Dakota doesn’t get a handle on regulation enforcement, they are going to see a negative long-lasting effect on their state that goes past the quick profit of reckless fracking. Just as Gudrun put it, states need to enact laws regulating brine and frack fluid before drilling starts. This is crucial to safe and prosperous drilling practices. Of course our country’s energy independence is vital to its citizens’ sense of pride. However, when does pride hurt a country’s own citizens?

Of course North Dakota wants a stabilized and prosperous economy… doesn’t everybody nowadays? However, it’s important that ND gets a handle on regulations and enforcement quickly before illegal dumping gets out of hand.

Alessandro Machi

June 9, 2012, 3:02 p.m.

Holy Crap, Andrew Tyler, After ten years of reading tens of thousands of internet comments, I finally read someone’s comment who thinks exactly as I do.

Alessandro Machi

June 9, 2012, 3:06 p.m.

As for “the going green isn’t going to get it done” comment, neither is using non-renewable resources to create additional dependence on non-renewable resources.

Every home should have a couple of micro energy generators that simply convert wind and sun into small bits of energy. Where are these devices?

I’m not talking a thousand dollar device either, I’m talking a 50 dollar to 100 dollar energy generation devices.

To: Andrew Tyler
We may argue forever but reality won’t be changed by that. All the chemicals exist on this earth and not imported from another planet.
With respect may I suggest the too much worried, to be happy while preparing to watch how a beautiful world unfolds before the eyes of global people, when grteed-less ofr less-greedy a new set of global leaders takes control of the Woorld economy.
You may visit: to have an idea what I am referring to.
Thanks Diane, never feel confused.

North Dakota is being used as a science experiment.  The people, wildlife, domestic animals etc.  This is so terrible.  I can not believe this is being allowed and even pushed by our so called leaders.  As far as trying to inform our leaders and getting them to change laws, well sad to say but not in this state if you lived to be 1,000 years old.  There is to much greed and total disrespect for other people’s health.  You would never get them to realize or care about the connection between a clean enviroment and health and happiness.  They are mostly an ignorant greed filled bunch who believe that enough money can buy anything.  We need federal legislation and help in here or the North Dakota our pioneers worked so hard to settle will be ruined forever, and I don’t believe anyone including Big Oil &Gas; has the right to make sick or kill anyone living anywhere in western North Dakota before we stop “fracking”.

Attention Andrew Tyler:  For your attention and call to action!  A new formation in South West North Dakota containing gas and oil will be the next to taste the fracing process. The name of the formation?  You guessed it—the Tyler formation.  Google it,and then call your psycho.

If you really want to check out an environmental catastrophy in North Dakota, look into the huge number of birds(from sandhill cranes and bald eagles down to sparrows and bats) that are being killed and maimed daily by the unsightly and bird deadly wind generators that have sprouted up in central ND. Of course, that would not fit your hateful agenda,would it?  I would suggest you and all the other naysayers above immediately cease the purchase and use of any product containing oil and gas. That’ll fix em.

You are probably not interested to know that I am a member of a ND Indian tribe and proud of that heritage, but I will tell you anyway. I worked my way through Engineering School while employed in the Oil Drilling industry. My family and I have done well in that field for 45 years.  In that time I have never seen anyone purposely pollute.  Accidents do happen,you know, in any human endeavors.

But, I do question the motives and hypocracy of the author of of this Pro Publica article.  The polution that has permeated that cesspool of New York since that first Dude stepped off the boat some centuries ago is legendary and ongoing.  Why,do you realize the methane gas eminating from all those elite folks every day is enough to light,heat and air condition the UN Building? Unless Mr. Kussnutze drove an electric vehicle for thirty or forty days to get to ND, he burned a lot of fossil fuels just to come to badmouth us. I would rather he stay in that rat infested pigsty that is NY and write us about how pooping on a police car is not pollution.

I do hope the Tyler Formation proves to be as prolific in Oil and Gas production as first indications indicate it will be.

Ignorance is bliss. Especially those that think they are part of the solution when in reality they are part of the very problem. They may offer supposed solutions…but in most cases don’t use them either. Many things are a byproduct of oil.

Do you use anything that is made of plastic? Guess what one of it’s components is.

Do you drive a car, carpool, use a bus, etc? Guess what….

Do you go to the grocery store to buy your food? Guess what is used in the vehicles to get it there.

And petroleum jelly should be obvious.

And on and on.

Some people say they want drilling and frakking and such to stop. Yet, anytime they put oil in their vehicle or buys something with it as a byproduct….they are supporting the very same companies and their practices…even if indirectly….that they protest against because of their reliance on it.

Some try to use this as a political ploy and say it’s a Republican thing. Yet they ignore the many Democrats that support it as well. But then they try making it a peeing contest which goes to show how shallow their argument really is.

Then again…if we had a better economy….maybe what’s happening in ND wouldn’t be as big of an issue. Of course it’s also always easier to blame others from years ago…and never take responsibility and owe up to your own failures as well.

But the fact remains…even those that whine about all this…are still in most cases part of the problem as long as they continue to use and buy products that require oil.

Alessandro Machi

June 11, 2012, 2:07 a.m.

Chad, most people know how dependent they already are on oil, all the more reason to reduce that dependence, not increase it as if it will never run out.

Tory Wil and Diane Viher cannot even compose complete sentences.  Their posts are not worth a second read.

Les Bergh: I have no earthly idea what you’re talking about, nor do I see any relevance whatsoever to the fact that there’s a new formation called the Tyler Formation. Is that sass? I haven’t said a word about wind power or boycotting petroleum products, and I’m clueless as to what you read that made you think I have a ‘hateful agenda’. You certainly are a creative one, aren’t you!

As for the rest of your points, I’m afraid they’re all utter nonsense. The fact that you haven’t personally witnessed acts of intentional pollution is totally irrelevant. I’ve personally never witnessed such acts either, but thanks to research, investigative journalism and a little common sense, I can be fairly sure they happen, and for definite structural-institutional reasons (e.g., corporations’ legal obligation to their shareholders to maximize profit and market share)—along with political corruption, torture, civilian massacres and a host of other unpleasant things I’ve never actually seen. I know it’s hard for someone in the grip of the toddler mindset to comprehend, but the world does not revolve around you.

If you don’t think that Big Oil is turning the earth into a giant garbage can, or that gigantic transnational corporations routinely cut corners, break laws and exploit loopholes to maximize profit, you’re simply living in an alternate universe. No one with eyes and a functioning brain can deny this. My original point was simply this: that we have a choice. Either we accept this mass spoliation because we value our hyperconsumptive lifestyle more than we value nature (including all the creatures that live IN and UNDER the ground and don’t just fly over it, like your cranes, eagles, sparrows and bats), or we don’t accept it and therefore decide to do something about it. It’s pretty clear what side you’re on.

Your penultimate paragraph is a pointless and probably racist rant, although given your idiosyncratic syntax it’s hard to be sure.

Shahislam: I confess I don’t really know what you’re talking about. Of course all the chemicals come from the earth. Is that supposed to be an argument against trying to invent cleaner and more sustainable methods of procuring energy to meet the needs of the 21st century? You seem to be extraordinarily pessimistic about this possibility, yet offer no reasons for such pessimism.

In Michigan, we are seeking to ban horizontal fracking and frack wastes from coming here, by amending our state constitution—the first state to do so. If you are a Michigan registered voter, please sign our petition, which can only be done in person, by finding a circulator near you at: LetsBanFracking dot org.

We need signatures by July 9. This will put it on the ballot in the November election statewide.

We have the world’s fresh water supply here. Fracking has already begun. Northern Michigan already has seen 23 frack permits, parts of highly populated areas already have been auctioned off by our State, and the entire Lower Peninsula is destined for fracking. Encana and Devon Energy are fracking away in several counties, in our state forests and near people’s homes. We have over 1,000 injection wells. The beautiful Irish Hills area, near the Ohio border, stands to become our next “sacrifice zone” when the oil wells there will then target the Utica Collingwood shale.

Please pass the word. Time is of the essence.

LuAnne Kozma
Campaign Director
Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan

Alessandro Machi

June 14, 2012, 2:02 p.m.

In regards to Michigan, I seem to recall reading that the great lakes are the largest body of fresh water IN THE WORLD.  So it does make sense to go easy on the fracking anywhere near these wonderful lakes.

Peggy Lien you are the only one who know what they are talking about.You are apparently from here also. Has any one seen the housing prices around here? Unless you have an oil well you can nolonger afford 2 live here! Have been looking 4 a reasonable priced home for a year now. Our state has been destroyed by the oil the roads are beyond terrible. The only ones who are really benefitting are the land owners. What about the residents that have been here for generations? We are all having to relocate out of our state because not everyone here owns a well! Where is our help! We have homeless people here due to the flood and they just keep sending more and more people here. There is also many here from other states that have come 2 ND for work and also are homeless. Its nolonger the place we wanted to raise our families as a matter of fact we can nolonger afford 2.

Leaving the emotions aside ALL of you may be interested to know that there is ZERO chance for ANY environmental damage caused by oil drilling, fracking, or any other source of energy production. A 30 year old technology called bioremediation currently in use across the world but NEVER to be in print of the drive by media, is a viable and safe use of microbes that biodegrade any any all hydrocarbons.  These same microbes eliminate all waste from trash going into city dumps, biosolids from waste treatment facilities, and have been biodegrading the worst toxins in the world. (See UN Dirty Dozen List). Produce energy, create jobs, and have the cleanist country in the world. Put the scam artists out of business. Vote them out this november. It will be your last chance as an american to do so.  Terrorist organizations such as the UN, World summits, EPA, FEMA, USDA, UNESCO, etc are in full attack mode on your freedoms. If you want answers and you want the truth be strong enough to handle the truth. Ask questions, be informed, and then make your own decisions. Do not have your opinion handed to you in a news blog or an EPA taxable mandate which will turn yuo into a FEMA gulag.  Basic info on . Do send emails with exact questions. I will always give you exact answers. God Bless. Mr Archaea!

Alessandro Machi

June 16, 2012, 3:16 a.m.

Do the microbes prevent earthquakes caused from fracking, or contaminated water? I don’t believe they do.

Since you obviously have no education in the area of plate tetonics and do have an afinity of having your opinion handed to you by criminal elements associated with environmental groups i can only state the facts and allow you to think for yourself. More ground displacement occurs during a summer draught than all of the fracking combined.
Therefore, since fracking absolutely does not cause “earthquakes” then one may assume that the archaea microbes do not prevent earthquakes wherever they occur.  Sticking to the facts makes life a whole lot easier.  Via con dios, mi amigo.

Easily remove radiation from any water source

Our University of Alabama patented solar desalination product uses no electricity, has no filters to replace, can be taken anywhere and extracts pure water from any contaminated water source. It removes radiation, fluoride, salt, pesticides, bacteria, dirt and other contaminants from any water. It aids people to be prepared for disasters. Made tough in the U.S.A.

Please visit us:

These units can also be placed together in arrays of literally any number of panels, as needed, to accommodate a desert farm or any remote area that needs water.

Glad to see drilling in America for a change. You see change right now
more then any solar panels and windmills will produce.
Now is the time to drill baby drill and drill some more.
I have 50 wells on my property now and going to put more.
Drill baby drill, the smell of money is so nice and no Arab owns this.
I just built a new park for the county aswell with the money to help
local people and not some country around the world.

Amen, Jack!  pleased to hear from such a level headed person on this particular blog. I am amazed how many uneducated persons hear and repeat environmantal waco statements with no data to support their claims.  I had no idea there are still a few completely ignorant persons that think the EPA is here to help the USA.
Please America. Ask questions, read emperical evidence, use more than one source. For god sakes man think for yourselves.  For questions of a farm owner ask jack. For questions on earthquakes, ask the USGS, for questions on Contamination go to  Time is running out. You have to think or swim. choose wisely.

If a terrorist poisoned our water supply, you’d be furious. Apparently, we do not get furious if the terrorist stands to make a lot of money as do the politicians giving it the “okay.” We can all live without natural gas. We cannot live without water. These people know what’s going to happen because they’ve already seen it happening ..... and you won’t see their families near a fracking site ... only the dispensable. It’s AMAZING how history can repeat itself over and over for generations to say, “That’s appalling! That would never happen today, how could’ve they let it happen then?” The final wars will be fought over fresh water and our children will suffer because of our inaction. “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”  -Albert Einstein.

Alessandro Machi

June 27, 2012, 12:46 p.m.

While I consider myself a mildly practicing environmentalist, (I hand water my garden with buckets of water, I recycle water from the kitchen to the garden, we don’t use air conditioning in the summer, and so on, I have to disagree that we could live without natural gas.

Amen to Guy and Jack!

If some of you really think that fracking causes earthquakes, shame on you. If fracking could really do that, at some point it is going to make the whole earth blowup like a balloon! Hah! Imagine that! No. That would never happen. Be sensible people. So John, nice touch with the Einstein quote, but I have to ask. What are you doing?

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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