Report Calls For Protection Of Water From Oil Development

WILLISTON, N.D. – Greater monitoring and enforcement are needed to protect water from harmful effects of oil and gas development in North Dakota and other western states, a coalition of resource councils said in a report released Thursday.

The report “Watered Down” by the Western Organization of Resource Councils examines dangers posed to water quality by oil and gas production in North Dakota, Montana, Colorado and Wyoming.

Among its findings, the report calls for states not to permit more wells than they can properly oversee.

Theodora Bird Bear, a Mandaree resident and member of the Dakota Resource Council, which participated in the report, said she’d like to see the North Dakota Industrial Commission slow down its permitting process.

“Out here, we’re the ones who see the impacts of that when there’s not existing infrastructure to adequately protect human health,” said Bird Bear, a resident of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Bird Bear said she has concerns about how waste that results from oil and gas development, including radioactive materials, is being disposed of and would like to see more transparency.

“We don’t really know the full scale and the volume of the toxic oil and gas waste in western North Dakota,” Bird Bear said.

The report highlights several spills and incidents that have occurred in the four states, including the recent pipeline break near Tioga that caused a 20,600-barrel oil spill and a December 2012 oil well blowout near Lake Sakakawea.

The report also recommends that states should:

— Set clear and enforceable performance standards to protect the environment, such as wellsite construction and waste disposal.

— Require comprehensive monitoring systems so when spills or failures occur the damage is minimized.

— Enforce the standards with fines that are substantial enough to deter carelessness.

— Establish hotlines that allow residents to report problems at oil and gas sites.

The report follows the organization’s study titled “Gone for Good” that highlighted the amount of water used for hydraulic fracturing and warned of diminishing water supplies.

“The states need to address this problem and they need to address it fast,” Robert LeResche, a board member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council in Wyoming, said in a teleconference Thursday.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said North Dakota’s regulations already are stringent and state agencies have added staff as development has increased.

“I think our regulations generally lead the nation in terms of regulatory policy and actions,” Ness said. “They’ve been upgraded several times.”