This week the New York Times released an extensive expose that highlights the flaws in North Dakota’s regulatory system for the oil and gas industry. It has been received in a variety of ways, on both sides of the issue. But one thing is indisputable about the piece–Deborah Sontag did her homework. Whether or not you think North Dakota needs more regulation within its oil and gas sector, there are issues within Sontag’s dialogue that North Dakota’s citizens need to address.
Deborah Sontag’s in-depth research culminated in two articles. The first one focuses on oil and saltwater spills, and the second mostly focuses on the structure and members of North Dakota’s government. First, “The Downside of the Boom.” One of the most glaring statistics presented in the piece is that in 2006 there was one environmental incident for every eleven wells that number has increased to one for every six as of this year. From Janurary to October of 2014 more gallons of hazardous material has been spilled than in 2011 and 2012 combined. In the article, Lynn Helms, the head of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources even states that in terms of spills, the state is “not doing great.”
Sontag alludes to the increase in environmental hazards being attributed to the oil companies not getting fined enough. Since 2006 North Dakota has collected $1.1 million dollars in fines from production companies in comparison to $33 million in Texas. Texas only produces 4 times more oil than North Dakota. The Times also created a detailed map of spills seen in the state, which was not available in a searchable format anywhere until the articles’ release, while it is available in other states.
The second article is called “Where oil and politics mix.” It tells the story of the North Dakota government catering to the oil and gas industry more than the health and safety of its citizens. Some of the most concerning facts that Sontag brings up concern the current North Dakota Governor, Jack Dalrymple and the Industrial Commission. The North Dakota Industrial Commission holds the majority of decision power when it comes to oil and gas related issues in the state. No other state regulates its oil and gas industry in this way, and according to the Times report it is not proving effective in the midst of the oil boom. Large sums of money for all of Jack Dalrymple’s campaigns come from oil companies such as Exxon Mobile and Continental Resources, alluding to the idea that the people who are regulating the industry are also being funded by them. Jack Dalrymple owns an unspecified amount of oil stock in the company ExxonMobile which is operated in the state of North Dakota through its subsidiary XTO.