North Dakota

New PBS Documentary Exposes Human Toll Of Oil Boomtown In North Dakota

The boomtown has always loomed large in the American imagination, but as it makes a comeback in this age of overabundant US oil and gas production, it’s more timely than ever to examine the real impacts on people and communities of the new oil boom — and the inevitable bust.

Filmmaker Jesse Moss has done just that in his new documentary The Overnighters, which captures the human consequences of the oil boom in Williston, North Dakota.

How Many Voluntary Easements Has Energy Transfer Partners Signed With Iowa Landowners For The Bakken Oil Pipeline?

By David Goodner

Texas-based Fortune 500 company Energy Transfer Partners claims to have signed voluntary easement agreements with nearly 60 percent of Iowa landowners in the path of the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline which would transport Bakken crude through the state. But a DeSmog investigation into publicly accessible information has verified less than half that number, casting doubt on Energy Transfer’s claims.

Energy Transfer Partners owns the proposed Dakota Access pipeline, set to carry up to 575,000 barrels of oil per day obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin through North and South Dakota and Iowa and into the southern Illinois town of Patoka. The proposed project has faced stiff resistance from environmentalists, farmers and other Iowans along the proposed route and across the state.

Revealed: Energy Transfer Partners’ 'Pipeline-for-Prostitute' Landman

By Steve Horn and David Goodner

A DeSmog investigation has uncovered the identity of a land agent and the contract company he works with that allegedly offered to buy an Iowa farmer the services of two teenage sex workers in exchange for access to his land to build the controversial proposed Dakota Access pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners.

The land agent who allegedly made the offer is Stephen Titus, a Senior Right-of-Way Agent who works for the Texas company Contract Land Staff, which was contracted by Energy Transfer Partners.

U.S. Military Concerned As Oil "Bomb Trains" Roll Dangerously Close to Nuclear Bomb Silos

The latest oil train derailment and explosion in Heimdal, North Dakota is another frightening reminder of the danger this industry poses to communities across the country. Thankfully evacuating Heimdal wasn’t that big an operation because there are only 27 residents in the town.

Which is a significantly smaller number than the 150 nuclear missiles buried in the ground under North Dakota. A recent report by Rachel Maddow reveals that the U.S. military is concerned about the proximity of the oil train tracks to those missile silos. Images like this one are why they are concerned. 

North Dakota Town Evacuated After Oil Train Derailment, Explosion

An oil train derailment and subsequent fire early this morning near Heimdal, a rural town in central North Dakota, has led to the evacuation of nearby residents. The Associated Press reports that the accident occurred at 7:30am and that ten tanker cars of a BNSF Railway train were burning, “creating thick black smoke.” There are no reports at this time of anyone having been hurt in the explosion or its aftermath.

Firefighters and hazardous materials teams have been sent to the scene, and a team of investigators from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is expected to arrive by mid-day, while the Environmental Protection Agency is reportedly sending someone to monitor nearby waterways for contamination, per the AP.

"Carbon Copy": How Big Oil and King Coal Ghost Write Letters for Public Officials, Business Groups

The Billings Gazette has revealed that coal mining company Cloudpeak Energy ghost wrote protest letters to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) on behalf of allied policymakers and business groups. 

Reporter Tom Lutey examined numerous letters written to DOI from Montana-based stakeholders and noticed something unusual: the language in every single letter was exactly the same. That is, the same except for a parenthetical note in one of them instructing the supposed writer of it to “insert name/group/entity.”

The “carbon copied” (pun credit goes to Lutey) letters requested for the DOI to give states a time extension to begin implementing new rules dictating the coal industry give states a “fair return” on mining leases granted to industry by the states. DOI ended up giving King Coal the 60-day extension.

“Last month, coal proponents scored a major victory by convincing the Department of Interior to hold off on its rule making for 60 days so that more people could respond,” Lutey wrote. “Members of the Montana Legislature, along with county commissioners and mayors from Montana and Wyoming communities put the weight of their political offices behind letters asking the DOI for more time. What they didn’t offer were their own words.”

Among those who submitted a “carbon copied” letter originally written by Cloudpeak Energy include the Montana Chamber of Commerce, Billings Chamber of Commerce, Montana Coal Council, Montana Sen. Debby Barrett and the Yellowstone County Board of Commissioners.  

Unlike others, the Montana Chamber of Commerce embarassingly forgot to take out the boilerplate “insert name/group/entity” language. 

Montana Chamber of Commerce Ghostwriting Coal Letter
Image Credit: Quit Coal

Cloud Peak responded by saying this was a “sample letter…included as part of…briefings,” but did not clarify if those allied stakeholders were supposed to send them to DOI in verbatim fashion, as did the Montana Chamber.

BNSF Engineer Who Manned Exploding North Dakota "Bomb Train" Sues Former Employer

A Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) employee who worked as a locomotive engineer on the company's oil-by-rail train that exploded in rural Casselton, North Dakota in December 2013 has sued his former employer

Filed in Cass County, the plaintiff Bryan Thompson alleges he “was caused to suffer and continues to suffer severe and permanent injuries and damages,” including but not limited to ongoing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) issues.

Thompson's attorney, Thomas Flaskamp, told DeSmogBlog he “delayed filing [the lawsuit until now] primarily to get an indication as to the direction of where Mr. Thompson's care and treatment for his PTSD arising out of the incident was heading,” which he says is still being treated by a psychiatrist.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind in the oil-by-rail world, the only time to date that someone working on an exploding oil train has taken legal action against his employer using the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

BNSF Engineer Casselton Lawsuit

Image Credit: State of North Dakota District Court; East Central Judicial District

Purposeful Distraction? Unpacking the Oil Refiners' "Bomb Trains" Lawsuit vs. Warren Buffett's BNSF

On March 13, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) — the oil refiners' trade association — sued oil-by-rail carrying giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) for allegedly violating its common carrier obligation under federal law. A DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed there may be more to the lawsuit than initially meets the eye.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, AFPM sued BNSF “for violating its common carrier obligation by imposing a financial penalty” for those carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin and other hazardous petroleum products in explosion-prone DOT-111 rail cars.

AFPM's beef centers around the fact that BNSF began imposing a $1,000 surcharge for companies carrying explosive Bakken fracked oil in DOT-111 cars, as opposed to “safer” CPC-1232 cars, at the beginning of 2015.

The Warren Buffett-owned BNSF did so, argues AFPM, illegally and without the authority of the federal government.

“This $1,000 surcharge on certain PHMSA-authorized rail cars breaches BNSF’s common carrier duty to ship hazardous materials under the auspices of PHMSA’s comprehensive regime governing hazardous materials transportation,” wrote AFPM's legal team, featuring a crew of Hogan Lovells attorneys. “Allowing railroads to penalize companies that ship crude oil in federally-authorized rail cars would circumvent PHMSA’s statutory and regulatory process for setting rail car standards for hazardous materials shipments.”

Upon a quick glance, it seems like a fairly straight-forward case of federal law and an intriguing example of an intra-industry dispute. But as recent history has proven, the devil is in the details.

As Oil Prices Collapse, North Dakota Considers Weakening Standards on Radioactive Drilling Waste

As the collapse of oil prices threatens North Dakota's shale drilling rush, state regulators are considering a move they say could save the oil industry millions of dollars: weakening the state's laws on disposing of radioactive waste.

The move has been the subject of an intensive lobbying effort by drillers, who produce up to 75 tons per day of waste currently considered too hazardous to dispose of in the state.

For every truckload of that waste, drillers could save at least $10,000 in hauling costs, they argue. State regulators calculate that by raising the radioactive waste threshold ten-fold, the industry would shave off roughly $120 million in costs per year.

But many who live in the area say they fear the long-term consequences of loosened disposal rules combined with the state's poor track record on preventing illegal dumping.

“We don't want to have when this oil and coal is gone, to be nothing left here, a wasteland, and I'm afraid that's what might happen,” farmer Gene Wirtz of Underwood, ND told KNX News, a local TV station. “Any amount of radiation beyond what you're already getting is not a good thing.”

Environmental groups have also objected that the rule change would put private companies' profits before public health.

“The only reason we're doing this today is to cut the oil industry's costs,” Darrell Dorgan, spokesman for the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition, which opposes the move, told Reuters.

VIDEO: Young Iowan Questions Rick Perry on Fracked Oil Pipeline Ties at Town Hall Meeting

By David Goodner

When 24-year old Iowa native Kevin Rutledge first heard that former Texas governor and potential Republican Party presidential candidate Rick Perry had been appointed to the Board of Directors of Energy Transfer Partners, which is attempting to build a pipeline carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale through his home state, he was hopping mad.

So on February 16, Rutledge decided to drive three hours from Des Moines to Sioux City, Iowa and ask Rick Perry face-to-face about his ties to the company during a town hall meeting at Morningside College.

Rutledge is from Ottumwa, Iowa and the proposed route of a new Dakota Access crude oil pipeline would cut right through the heart of the southeast Iowa county where he grew up, potentially impacting his home community with oil spills, polluted waterways, and damaged farmland.

Iowans and Americans are tired of not being listened to because we don’t have millions of dollars to influence politicians,” Rutledge told DeSmogBlog. “I heard about ties between Rick Perry, Iowa Governor [Terry] Branstad, and the Bakken oil pipeline and immediately knew this was an opportunity for me to ask him a question about it and bring this issue into light.”

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