In North Dakota, the fact that landowners don’t necessarily possess mineral rights on their land has made life hell for some amid the state’s petro-boom. Excerpts:
The chemical trucks returned on February 9. Brenda emailed the governor’s office asking for air quality monitors. There was no response. That night, their seven-year-old granddaughter, Ashley, who lives on the same road less than a mile away, woke up screaming from a headache. On February 10, the governor’s office called, saying the governor would speak to the head of the Industrial Commission’s Department of Mineral Resources, Lynn Helms. Nothing happened. The fracking started on February 18. Brenda quit hanging out laundry to dry because the clothes smelled so bad and the air burned her nostrils.
Then, in August of 2012, the Jorgensons had their worst scare yet. Richard and Brenda had just finished a long drive home from a funeral service when they found that the gas flare on the well 700 feet from their house had gone out. They could smell the foul, rotten-egg scent of hydrogen sulfide gas, and knew that along with it would be a cocktail of methane, butane, and propane. The couple didn’t know what to do. Petro-Hunt hadn’t given them an emergency number, and when they called the company’s office no one answered and there was no way to leave a message. So the couple threw open all the windows in their house, turned on fans, and left to move their horses farther away from the gas line.
Brenda phoned me that night. She was in tears and at wits’ end. “Who do you call?” she cried. “What do you do?”
North Dakota’s political establishment – Democrats and Republicans alike – view the oil boom as a huge success. Thanks largely to the new oil play in the Bakken, the state’s economy is surging. More than 41,000 workers were hired in North Dakota between 2008 and 2012, and the state has the lowest unemployment rate in the country. National leaders are pleased, too. All the oil pouring out of North Dakota has markedly improved US energy security. As recently as 2005, the US was importing 60 percent of the oil it consumes; today imports account for 42 percent of consumption. “Kuwait on the Prairie,” is how one headline writer described the Bakken.
But not everyone is happy about the situation. Traveling across northwest North Dakota it is not difficult to find farmers, ranchers, and Native Americans who are outraged by what they are experiencing. Many North Dakotans view the oil rush as an assault on their communities and the places they love. The current oil rush seems to them different than the last oil boom that took over the state in the 1970s. The petroleum in the Bakken Shale is what the fossil fuel industry refers to as “tight oil,” or what environmentalists call “extreme energy.” Like the petroleum locked in the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, shale oil is hard to get at even with the most advanced technologies. All of the extra effort involved in extraction means that Bakken oil has an especially heavy impact – on water resources, on land use, on wildlife and habitat, on the fabric of communities. The oil rush in North Dakota has turned life there inside out. As White Earth rancher Scott Davis puts it: “We’re collateral damage.”
The anger some North Dakotans feel toward the oil and gas industry is fueled by the feeling that the situation is totally out of their control. In many instances, people say, the oil companies haven’t been invited to drill – they’ve just invaded.
Read the whole thing. There’s an account from a farm couple whose cattle are being poisoned. The wife herself is being poisoned by chemicals used in fracking. But they can’t sell their land and leave because it’s now worthless because of the poison. Saruman rules the prairie.
They say it’s coming to my parish. Everybody’s excited by how much money we’re going to all make.