Bakken Shale

Whistleblower Reveals Flawed Construction at North Dakota Gas Plants Where Massive Spill Was Downplayed

Read time: 11 mins
Paul Lehto

Two North Dakota gas processing plants in the heart of the Bakken oil fields have shown signs of an eroded safety culture and startling construction problems, according to Paul Lehto, a 54-year-old former gas plant operator who has come out as a whistleblower. He described worrisome conditions at the Lonesome Creek plant, in Alexander, and the Garden Creek plant, in Watford City, where DeSmog recently revealed one of the largest oil and gas industry spills in U.S. history had occurred. Both plants process natural gas brought via pipeline from Bakken wells and are run by the Oklahoma-based oil and gas service company, ONEOK Partners.

The safety culture is embarrassing,” said Lehto, who has described to DeSmog the discovery of dozens of loose bolts along critical sections of piping, and other improperly set equipment, deficiencies he attributes to the frenzied rush of the oil boom that has dominated the state’s landscape and economy. “North Dakota is basically a Petrostate,” said Lehto, who worked at the two plants between 2015 and 2016. “There is regulatory capture, and sure that happens in other areas, but nowhere is it more extreme than in North Dakota.”

Fracking and Shale Drilling Caused Spike in Climate-Warming Methane Pollution, Says New Study

Read time: 8 mins
Flaring in Permian Basin Shale with sunflowers

Climate-changing pollution reached unprecedented levels in 2018. That's both judged against the last 60 years of modern measurements and against 800,000 years of data culled from ice cores, according to the U.S. government’s State of the Climate report, which was published this week with the American Meteorological Society.

That pollution creates a greenhouse effect that is over 42 percent stronger than it was in 1990, the report added.

And while carbon dioxide hit a new level last year, it isn't the only climate-changing gas that’s on the rise globally. Pollution of the powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas methane also climbed in 2018, showing an increase “higher than the average growth rate over the past decade,” the report adds.

A new Cornell University study published today in the scientific journal Biogeosciences helps to explain what sparked the surge in those methane concentrations, both here in the U.S. and around the world.

One big culprit: shale drilling and fracking.

The Fracking Industry’s Flaring Problem May Be Worse Than We Thought

Read time: 8 mins
Natural gas flaring

In 2018, the oil and gas industry operating in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale burned off record amounts of natural gas, largely obtained via hydraulic fracturing (fracking). This process, known as flaring, costs the industry money — it literally burns one of the products being pumped out of the ground — but more importantly, the resulting release of globe-warming emissions of carbon dioxide and methane spells disaster for the climate.

And a new analysis of satellite evidence indicates the industry is likely underreporting how much gas it is actually flaring in the Permian Shale, with implications for other oil fields.

TigerSwan, County Sheriff Sued Over Road Blockade During Dakota Access Pipeline Protests

Read time: 6 mins
National Guard checkpoint

On October 18, two Standing Rock Sioux Tribe members and a pastor for an Episcopal Church on the reservation filed a class action civil lawsuit against state, county, and private law enforcement in the latest chapter of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) saga. 

The plaintiffs allege that these groups were involved in a prolonged effort to blockade North Dakota State Highway 1806 to opponents of the controversial oil pipeline during the most heated protests from late October 2016 through early 2017.

Flip This Well: How Fracking Company CEOs Get Rich While Losing Billions

Read time: 9 mins
Flip this well logo on top of oil pumpjacks

Last year the fracking company Halcón Resources announced a new strategy that was sold as the path to profits for the previously troubled shale oil and gas firm. The company had sold its stake in the Bakken oil fields in order to double down on the Permian shale in Texas. At the time, Reuters touted the deal as a “stunning turnaround” for CEO Floyd Wilson, and the good news immediately drove up the Halcón stock price by 35 percent.

The sale of our Williston Basin operated assets transforms Halcón into a single-basin company focused on the Delaware Basin where we have more than 41,000 net acres,” Wilson said in a statement. He was making his pitch and investors responded.

However, the move was part of a familiar formula for those in the shale industry, which uses horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to release oil and gas from shale formations: Borrow lots of money, drill lots of fossil fuels at a loss, flip the company for a profit.

Why the Koch Network Took Credit for Dakota Access, Keystone XL, and REINS Act

Read time: 6 mins
Koch brothers

A leaked memorandum published by The Intercept and Documented Investigations shows that a Koch Industries' donors network, known as the Seminar Network, has taken credit for Donald Trump approving the permits for both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines during the first months of his presidency. The memo also applauded efforts by the Koch network's Americans for Prosperity (AFP) chapter in Wisconsin to pass a deregulatory measure there known as the REINS Act. The Seminar Network, which meets secretly twice a year, is made up of donors who give at least $100,000 toward Koch-led political and philanthropic efforts.

Koch Industries has a business interest in both pipelines, though their approval has not been something its funded network has widely discussed. Quietly, though, Koch has advocated for the pair of pipelines in regulatory hearings in both Iowa for Dakota Access — as previously reported by DeSmog — as well as in Canada, as reported in 2012 by InsideClimate News.

This Law Firm Is Both Representing Dakota Access Owner and Suing Its Security Firm

Read time: 6 mins
A police officer stands near protesters with signs against Dakota Access blocking the entrance to an Army Corps building

Energy Transfer Partners, owner of the Dakota Access pipeline, has filed a federal lawsuit against Greenpeace and others for alleged racketeering in their anti-pipeline activism related to Standing Rock. The company’s legal support comes from the firm Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, whose attorneys also represent President Donald Trump in the ongoing Russia-U.S. election investigation.  

However, federal court rules require that, in addition to the New York-based team at Kasowitz, Energy Transfer Partners must retain local legal counsel in North Dakota, where the lawsuit was filed. The bottom of the 187-page legal complaint filed on August 22 reveals that the corporation chose Vogel Law Firm, with offices in both Minnesota and North Dakota, for that job.

However, by serving as a law firm for Energy Transfer Partners, Vogel may have a potential conflict of interest. That's because, at the same time, the firm is representing the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board in its ongoing lawsuit against TigerSwan. This private security firm worked on behalf of Dakota Access during the months-long protest movement at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Emails Show Iraq War PR Alums Led Attempt to Discredit Dakota Access Protesters

Read time: 13 mins
militarized police presence lined up in North Dakota against Dakota Access pipeline protesters

By Steve Horn and Curtis Waltman, MuckRock

Behind the scenes, as law enforcement officials tried to stem protests against the Dakota Access pipeline, alumni from the George W. Bush White House were leading a crisis communications effort to discredit pipeline protesters.

Emails show that the firms Delve and Off the Record Strategies, apparently working on contract with the National Sheriffs’ Association, worked in secret on talking points, media outreach, and communications training for law enforcement dealing with Dakota Access opponents mobilized at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. This revelation comes from documents obtained via an open records request from the Laramie County Sheriff's Department in Wyoming.

Louisiana Joins Compact Which Brought Out-of-State Cops to Dakota Access Protests

Read time: 8 mins
Militarized law enforcement lined up and in armored cars at Standing Rock

By Steve Horn and Curtis Waltman

On June 19, Louisiana’s Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards signed a bill into law which will enter his state into the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC).

EMAC is the compact which last year gave out-of-state cops the legal authority to flood into North Dakota during the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer PartnersThe Louisiana bill, SB 151, was signed as Energy Transfer Partners has another pipeline proposed to run through Louisiana, the Bayou Bridge pipeline. Bayou Bridge is an extension of Dakota Access, set to run from Nederland, Texas, to refinery markets and export terminals in Louisiana.

The compact, signed into existence by President Bill Clinton in 1996, was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew with the intent of expediting and bolstering natural disaster response efforts. But the federal legislation creating the compact also has language allowing for a governor of a state to issue an emergency order in the case of the rise of an “insurgency or enemy attack.”

In Heat of Dakota Access Protests, National Sheriffs' Association Lobbied for More Military Gear

Read time: 9 mins
SWAT team

By Steve Horn and Curtis Waltman

At the end of 2016, as a mix of sheriffs, police, and private security forces were clashing with those protesting the Dakota Access pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, the National Sheriffs' Association was lobbying Congress for surplus military gear and on undisclosed issues related to the now-operating oil pipeline. This information comes from federal lobbying disclosure forms reviewed by DeSmog.

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