“Fracking has also accelerated life on the surface. Some landowners have made millions of dollars from selling the rights to oil beneath their land to major corporations. And struggling agricultural crossroads, including Watford City, the county seat 20 miles southeast of Novak’s farm, have found new life as boomtowns. During the past decade, a new high school and hospital, and housing developments sprawling from Main Street into the prairie, have arisen to serve the more than 10,000 people who have come from afar to work in the McKenzie County oil field.
But installing an industry atop an agricultural zone has brought less-heralded changes, too, including an elaborate system to deal with the saltwater, which is actually a polluted mix of naturally occurring brine, hydrocarbons, radioactive materials and more. Billions of gallons of it are produced by oil drilling and pumping each year.”
“Over the following weeks, industry clean-up specialists dug dirt, built berms and installed pumps to try to decontaminate the pasture and its springs. But nearly three months later, a water sample taken far down the gully, where it broadens into a wetland, contained 149,000 parts per million of chloride — 600 times the advised limit, and a clear indication that saltwater and its dangerous contaminants were still present.
The damage to Novak’s land, while dramatic, isn’t uncommon in the North Dakota oil fields. More than 50 saltwater spills happen each year in McKenzie County, when tanker trucks crash, pipelines leak, or well pads or disposal sites catch fire or otherwise malfunction. Many spills are contained on well pads and at disposal sites. But others drain into fields, farmyards and roadways. Novak worried about his pasture, a water source for cows, deer, pheasants and more. And he feared the cumulative impact of so many saltwater spills in a county that is home to hundreds of streams and springs, and where farmers and ranchers often rely on water wells for livestock and themselves.”
” Today, tax revenues from oil operations make up more than 50 percent of North Dakota’s annual budget. Republican leaders in the state, who hold all federal and statewide elected positions, have continued to push for a carbon-based economy, as North Dakota now depends on oil more than any other state. The North Dakota Legacy Fund, an investment account approved by North Dakota voters to guard some oil tax revenue for future expenses, is worth more than $8 billion. Oil tax revenue from that and other sources has buoyed schools and health care across the state, lowered income taxes for residents, and funded everything from flood containment systems in eastern North Dakota to major highway projects.”
““Sometimes you have a really good company that will clean it up. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you don’t ever find out about it,” Jappe said. “I wish saltwater had a little bit more regulation. There just needs to be more accountability.”
Jappe would like the state to require tanker trucks hauling saltwater to carry placards that indicate the toxic load. She would like to see more state health and environmental quality inspectors on site, including some who live and work in McKenzie County year-round, as many now travel from the eastern part of the state for shorter stays.
She is especially concerned about the damage that can come if pipes injecting saltwater a mile underground were to leak. She told me she is not confident underground aquifers, let alone fields and pastures impacted by surface spills, are safe. She worries that residents don’t have enough protection under current oil-field oversight by state agencies that can’t keep pace with development.
“We’re their lab rats,” Jappe said.”