State needs to step up protecting people, lands

The head of an environmental group’s oil and gas task force says the state needs to be more active in protecting the people and lands of North Dakota.

Theodora Bird Bear, chairwoman of the Dakota Resource Council’s Oil and Gas Task Force who lives in Mandaree, said, “There’s a lot of revenue coming in today to pockets and people did need it, but there’s also another cost to this development that I fear is going to be shouldered by the citizens of North Dakota.

“The North Dakota Industrial Commission, the state of North Dakota they dually need to be more active in developing some sort of system that’s protecting the health, the livelihood, the lands of western North Dakota. This is all happening out in western North Dakota,” said Bird Bear.

Bird Bear spoke in response to the oil spill that occurred in the Tioga area.

About 10 or so days ago, a Tioga farmer, Steve Jensen, discovered the spill of crude oil from a pipeline under his wheat field eight miles northeast of Tioga. The pipeline break resulted in 20,600 barrels of oil or 865,200 gallons, leaked out of the pipeline owned by Tesoro Corp. State officials said the spill, among the largest recorded in North Dakota, has been stopped and is contained and being cleaned up. The spill covered an area about the size of seven football fields or 7.3 acres, The Associated Press reported.

The Dakota Resource Council, in a news release issued Thursday, said the spill is one of the largest oil spills on lands in the U.S. “The magnitude of this most recent oil spill combined with the slow response time of our state regulators opens the door to many questions,” DRC officials said. The release also said the latest spill calls for an open and honest public discussion of how North Dakota is handling oil development and that the lack of open, balanced government needs to change.

Mandaree, Bird Bear’s community, is in the heart of the oil and gas development on the Fort Berthold Reservation in western North Dakota.

“It’s interesting that it went unrecorded for so long to the media,” Bird Bear said.

Bird Bear said there are probably many surface and mineral owners who live out of state. “I think they have no idea of the magnitude of development and the magnitude of environmental costs that are occurring here. They’re getting the checks, it’s money but it’s not free money,” she said.

In the case of the recent spill, she said she feels the regulatory authority needs to take more accountability to prevent damages by the pipelines.

She also noted, “I wonder how many people when they’re handed right-of-way easement forms signed it without really adding the necessary protections for themselves, for their livelihood, for their homes, for their future generations who are going to inherit this. Chances are besides the land they may be inheriting a pipeline or an abandoned pipeline. So when you’re making those kinds of decisions you need to think about your grandchildren and people that follow them.”

Soon after the oil and gas development started on the Fort Berthold Reservation several years ago, Bird Bear said she started seeing visible spills on the highways where people travel every day. She said trucks go on the small road where she lives 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. She started taking photos to document her concerns. She said she mailed them to the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs, and wrote letters to the newspaper about the lack of active enforcement in very rural areas.

Bird Bear said she does not think there is a good system set up to report problems. “People are concerned out here but it’s knowing the resources to contact and will they follow up as they should. The priorities are on development but not the costs of development,” she said.

She said when the Dakota Resource Council meets in Dickinson Oct. 26, its keynote speaker will be Wilma Subra, a nationally known researcher who works with communities on adverse impacts such as explosions and well spills. Most recently, she has worked on the Gulf spill. Subra, a chemist, is from Louisiana.

The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at the Heart River Retreat at 2475 W. Broadway in Dickinson. Doors will open at 3:30 p.m. and Subra will speak at 3:45 p.m.

The Dakota Resource Council is continuing to monitor the Tioga spill, according to Don Morrison, executive director.