Tainted: North Dakota

First, I feel it is important to say that I have friends and family in North Dakota (ND) and I am confident that there are plenty of good people in the state doing good things. Hopefully tainting ND does not get me uninvited to an upcoming wedding. However, the way the fossil fuel industry is running portions of the state is not in humanity’s best interest. A recent L.A. Times article outlined the volume of natural gas flaring currently being done in ND. The picture above illustrates this well; in the Williston Basin where the Bakken oil fields are there is not a major metropolitan area and yet a picture from outer space depicts a different story, simply from all of the natural gas flares being burned and wasted. Currently $1 billion worth of natural gas is flared each year in ND, about 30% of total production. There are not too many industries where you can ‘throw away’ 30% of your product and still be highly profitable. But natural gas flaring and wasted energy are just the tip of the iceberg in Western ND. Portions of the state are neck deep in an “oil boom” which has helped lead to an incredibly low unemployment rate but has brought on numerous unintended consequences. ND has failed to get ahead of the needs surrounding infrastructure, crime prevention, and governance. This has led to overuse and erosion of infrastructure, a wave of illegal waste dumping and other crime, and disputes over land and mineral rights. There are examples where it appears as though the fossil fuel industry has politicians bought and paid for or perhaps have just been allowed to conduct business to make the most profit with little regard for the long term economic and environmental consequences. ND produces over a million barrels of oil per day and has 17,500 miles of pipelines. In September 2013 a spill released over 20k barrels and was only reported to the public after an Associated Press inquiry. It is a relief to know that while oil covered over 7 acres, officials stated no wildlife was harmed and no groundwater was contaminated <sarcasm>. Cleanup crews opted to burn oil on the surface and later dug ditches to collect and vacuum what remained. Starting oil on fire as a cleanup procedure is an interesting approach, let’s hope they do not begin doing that at local car repair shops. Further research revealed that there have been over 300 spills since January 2012 that were never reported to the public. Jim Fuglie, a ND native and former governor appointed Director of Tourism has a great blog outlining more of the issues here. If the oil ever does run out, ND has the single largest known deposit of lignite (coal) in the world and may choose to move from exporting one dirty fuel source to another. And a few final statistics on ND; the state’s energy consumption per capita is the 4th highest in the US, 79% of all electricity generation comes from coal, and wind farms have taken a back seat to oil despite the state being ranked 6th highest in wind energy potential with average wind speeds of 10-13 mph.

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