Hydraulic Fracturing—a procedure used to extract natural gas trapped in shale deposits—has become a booming industry in North Dakota, with almost every major oil and gas company owning mineral rights or land leases in the state. In fact, North Dakota is now the second largest producer of oil in the U.S., pumping more than 575,000 barrels per day and following closely behind Texas in production levels. But alongside the financial boom brought about by drilling comes a far less exciting side effect—contamination of North Dakota's land and water resources due to the spilling and dumping of drilling waste products.
According to data collected by ProPublica in 2011 alone, oil companies operating in North Dakota reported over 1000 accidental releases of oil and drilling wastewater (known as brine, and infused with many dangerous and potentially carcinogenic chemicals). In 2/3 of the reported spills, responders were not able to contain material to the accident site, allowing oil or brine to leak into the ground or nearby waterways. Worse still, regulators acknowledge that the reported incidents represent just the tip of the iceberg, with many more accidents going undetected or unreported. In one accident perpetrated by Petro Harvester last July, a brine leak went undetected for two days, allowing the release of nearly 2 million gallons of brine and causing the sterilization of 24 acres of farm land in the surrounding areas. Officials reported the leak as having spilled just 12,600 gallons of waste water; the record was never updated when the fuller extent of the problem was discovered.
Clearly, the results of accidents such as these have been devastating for the environment, resulting not just in the sterilization of farmland but also destroying marine life in streams and wetlands. Compounding the problem is the fact that, though North Dakota laws allow regulators to force oil companies to clean up their messes, these rules are rarely enforced, most likely out of fear that operators will take their business elsewhere. Despite the thousands of spills and dumps perpetrated by drillers in the state, there have been fewer than 50 disciplinary actions filed for drilling violations since 2009. Petro Harvest, for example, has still not been penalized for their devastating brine spill.
As environmental concerns increase, North Dakota law makers have attempted to pass new legislation to try to keep polluters in check. Among the bills passed into laws were regulations requiring the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluids and rules reducing the allowable number of open waste pits used to dump waste products from oil drilling operations. Despite the new legislation, home and property owners in the land express concern that no laws have been passed that might slow or limit drilling expansion in the state.
Having seen firsthand the devastation that oil and gas companies can cause, the property contamination attorneys at Arnold & Itkin advocate for increased regulation of drilling operations in North Dakota. If your property has been damaged by negligent North Dakota gas and oil operators like Petro Harvester, our experienced legal team may be able to help you hold the polluters accountable. Contact our office today for a free consultation.