JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Another Oil ‘Boom’

North Dakota’s oil boom was built on the back of lax regulation of the oil industry. Period.

When Jack Dalrymple takes credit for the oil boom, let’s remind him:

The train that blew up in West Virginia on Monday did not have to blow up. It could have derailed without blowing up. It’s easy to blame the railroad — they should have safer cars, right?

Well, not in this case.  The train was using model 1232 tank cars, which include safety upgrades voluntarily adopted by the industry four years ago, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The rail company, CSX, was using the latest technology available — safer cars than the ones that exploded in Quebec and Casselton, N.D.

So who’s to blame? I’d say the blame has to go to the North Dakota governor. The governor could require that the oil that goes in the cars is safe before it goes in. We’ve been asking for him to require oil companies to stabilize highly volatile Bakken crude before it goes into tank cars since the explosions in Quebec and Casselton. To no avail.

To quote the Dakota Resource Council, which has taken the lead on the demand for stabilization of Bakken crude before it goes into the tank cars (which is possible with current technology): “They (North Dakota regulators) could make sure oil is safe before it’s put on trains, but they’ve refused to do that. They have put protecting oil companies as their highest priority. They do not care about the consequences … It is irresponsible to keep approving permits to drill wells if there isn’t a safe way to get the oil to market. North Dakota’s current officials should slow down giving drilling permits. Gov. Dalrymple’s administration is putting people’s lives and property at risk here and across the continent.”


I had lunch recently with one of North Dakota’s pre-eminent environmental lawyers. He said it is a matter of when, not if, someone here gets their ass sued off big time. Let’s hope nobody dies before that happens.

Here’s a video of Monday’s crash and fire.

And then, let’s remind Jack Dalrymple of this, from Dickinson Press reporter Andrew Brown’s story over the weekend:

“The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas has allowed saltwater disposal wells to continue injecting fluid underground even as mechanical integrity tests — meant to detect weaknesses in the well’s construction — have indicated leaks in parts of the wells multiple layers of casing. A review of 449 well files and more than 2090 mechanical integrity tests reports show how state officials conditionally approve disposal wells even after they don’t meet widely accepted pressure testing standards.”

Further, Brown’s story says “State officials said the EPA guidance documents related to integrity testing don’t hold the same standing as the administrative rules and that the agency has the authority to choose which EPA guidelines to follow. ‘There is a big difference between guidance and having your own (underground injection control) program,’ said Alison Ritter, the public information specialist for the Division of Oil and Gas.”

“But environmental lawyers who reviewed the guidance documents said the state’s actions were legally questionable and could open the agency up to citizen lawsuits or a review by the EPA if enough people petitioned federal officials.”

“‘The EPA doesn’t put these guidance documents out there to be ignored,’ said Patrick Parenteau, a professor at the Vermont Law School and former counsel for the EPA from 1984 to 1987.” You can read Brown’s whole story here.

There’s another case of an expert saying the state is going to get its ass sued off one of these days.

And then there’s this–an exchange between Jack Dalrymple’s top oil “regulator,” Lynn Helms, and Prairie Public Radio’s Emily Guerin, in a story she reported just this morning. The first quote is from Helms testifying before a Legislative committee and then Guerin challenged the truth of his statements:

LYNN HELMS: Yes, the number of spills is up. But look at it in comparison to the number of wells. The rate of spills is way, way down.

EMILY GUERIN: In fact, the rate of spills was way, way up. That’s according to the state’s own data. It’s more than twice as high as it was in 2006, at the start of the Bakken boom. I asked Helms why he didn’t say that.

HELMS: I never, in a conversation with people, farmers, the general public, get into a whole bunch of statistical analysis business … the detailed statistics are lost on them or just simply don’t work in making a presentation.

Does that qualify as one of the most arrogant statements ever made by a public official? I’d say. Here’s a link to the whole story.

Meanwhile, we wait for Spring to find out if the oil spilled from the pipeline west of Glendive, now trapped under the ice, shows up in sinks in Williston. And if water in Williston, and downstream in New Town and Garrison and even in Bismarck, tastes a bit salty from the millions of gallons of brine which flowed into the creeks which feed the Missouri River. And how many thousands of acres of prairie lie dead from the effects of the brine spill from a pipeline that was never inspected by state officials.

There have been so many stories this winter about lax regulation it makes your head swim. Fines for environmental violations being reduced to less than 20 percent of what state laws provide for — the state’s “second chance” policy. Thousands of miles of pipelines being installed without inspection by any state official. State officials seeking to eliminate the state’s stringent requirements on disposal of radioactive filter socks. And on and on. Is it any wonder people like me, just an ordinary concerned citizen, question the activities of state officials, and criticize the governor and his appointed officials? I don’t like being a constant critic, but what choice do ordinary citizens have? Our government has abandoned us so that we can have an oil boom,  which they can take credit for.

And those are all things that happened when oil was a hundred bucks a barrel. Imagine what’s ahead, with oil only bringing half that, and our boom in danger. When oil companies really have to cut corners. And regulators have to turn away even further and faster to overlook continued violations. To keep that boom going. Imagine.

Leave a Reply