Oil drilling has sparked a frenzied prosperity in Jeff Keller's formerly quiet corner of western North Dakota in recent years, bringing an infusion of jobs and reviving moribund local businesses.
But Keller, a natural resource manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, has seen a more ominous effect of the boom, too: Oil companies are spilling and dumping drilling waste onto the region's land and into its waterways with increasing regularity.(Molly Quinn)
Hydraulic fracturing — the controversial process behind the spread of natural gas drilling — is enabling oil companies to reach previously inaccessible reserves in North Dakota, triggering a turnaround not only in the state's fortunes, but also in domestic energy production. North Dakota now ranks second behind only Texas in oil output nationwide.
The downside is waste — lots of it. Companies produce millions of gallons of salty, chemical-infused wastewater, known as brine, as part of drilling and fracking each well. Drillers are supposed to inject this material thousands of feet underground into disposal wells, but some of it isn't making it that far.
According to data obtained by ProPublica, oil companies in North Dakota reported more than 1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids in 2011, about as many as in the previous two years combined. Many more illicit releases went unreported, state regulators acknowledge, when companies dumped truckloads of toxic fluid along the road or drained waste pits illegally.
State officials say most of the releases are small. But in several cases, spills turned out to be far larger than initially thought, totaling millions of gallons. Releases of brine, which is often laced with carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals, have wiped out aquatic life in streams and wetlands and sterilized farmland. The effects on land can last for years, or even decades.
Compounding such problems, state regulators have often been unable — or unwilling — to compel energy companies to clean up their mess, our reporting showed.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2007:
One of the most dismaying artifacts of modern politics is how little leadership we actually see from our top Democrats. And by "top" Democrats, I mean those who can get on TV at the snap of a finger, or who are "serious" presidential candidates -- the kind of Democrats who have the most to lose by taking controversial stands.
Just look at Obama and Hillary on the supplemental -- they stayed mum the entire debate, refusing to take a leadership role. Then, during the debate, they were among the last to vote, watching each other for -- what? Beats me. Their consultants were probably freaking out, and as such, they've become risk-averse, mushy, afraid to lead.
In fact, name me one one thing in which Obama -- on the fast track to the White House ever since he burst into the scene in 2003 -- has led? And by leadership, I don't mean supporting the stuff that polls really well, but the stuff that requires effort to make happen. I just haven't seen it. Hillary is worse, given her particularly high public profile. She was a leader during the health care debacle in the early 90s, and then learned that leadership had its price, and she was no longer willing to pay it.