AP Photo/Sarah Christianson
This July 15, 2014 aerial photo shows discolored vegetation, lower left, leading from a pipeline where an estimated 1 million gallons of saltwater spilled from an underground pipeline at Bear Den Bay along the Missouri River near Mandaree, N.D.

From Briny Wastewater to Fracked Oil: Bakken Saturated With Spills, NYT Finds


It’s no secret that parts of North Dakota are plagued with spills of both briny wastewater and fracked oil from the notorious Bakken shale formation.

But the number and scope, uncovered by The New York Times and reported this week in a two-part investigation, is staggering.

“In recent years, as the boom really exploded, the number of reported spills, leaks, fires and blowouts has soared, with an increase in spillage that outpaces the increase in oil production, an investigation by The New York Times found,” report Deborah Sontag and Robert Gebeloff in a story published on November 22. “Yet, even as the state has hired more oil field inspectors and imposed new regulations, forgiveness remains embedded in the Industrial Commission’s approach to an industry that has given North Dakota the fastest-growing economy and lowest jobless rate in the country.”

The economic benefits, especially on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, have enriched many, but at a cost to drinking water and the environment. Though the Times does not mention American Indians or the Three Affiliated Tribes—the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation—many of the spills have either been on reservation land, or threatened the water there. And the pressures that the influx of workers puts on local services and infrastructure are also well documented. 

RELATED: A Million Gallons of Salty Wastewater Leaks Near Fort Berthold Water Supply

North Dakota Briny Wastewater Spill Questions Still Unanswered a Month Later

Winona LaDuke wrote a detailed report for Indian Country Today Media Network last month on the effect that the oil field production is having on the environment and the daily life of residents.

RELATED: ‘Unspeakable Poverty of Loss': Intergenerational Trauma and the Bakken Oil Fields

Bakken Gas Flares Away, as Nationwide Propane Shortage Kills With Hypothermia

Land Thievery Redux: Bakken Oil Leases and Money Mismanagement

The video-laced pieces in The New York Times are interactive, detailing in graphics the hundreds of spills that have occurred in northwestern North Dakota over the past few years, and discussing, as does LaDuke, the virtual complete lack of regulation and repercussion for the companies responsible for the environmental destruction.

Read The Downside of the Boom and Where Oil and Politics Mix in The New York Times for a comprehensive overview of the industry in that corner of the world, and the ways it has changed and endangered the lives of many.

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