A number of spills in North Dakota’s oil patch have got headlines recently, but at least one company is a little suspicious as to how they came to happen.
“Hess spokesman John Roper said employees found wide-open valves on saltwater storage tanks on two well locations 3 miles apart,” the Bismarck Tribune reported.
“We call that suspicious,” Roper told the newspaper.
The implications of that statement are sobering given how endlessly controversial oil development is, and how invested politically some groups seem to be in using every oil spill and train derailment as a weapon against development.
How secure are the state’s oil wells and pipelines? And who would be motivated to cause spills, if that is what’s happening?
On the latter question, it could be a disgruntled employee or group of employees. Dropping oil prices have resulted in layoffs in some parts of the country, but that really hasn’t hit North Dakota yet.
Could it be random vandals? Always possible.
Could it be environmental activists who are heavily invested in any and every opportunity to embarrass the industry they hate? That’s also a possibility.
The environmental movement, like any political movement, has its fringe elements. Acts of vandalism by these activists isn’t common, but it’s not unusual either. The oil industry is very controversial in some circles, and there are even foreign nations with an interest in doing whatever they can to wound America’s domestic oil production.
Case in point, the Dakota Resource Council. This organization is not in any way connected to the alleged “suspicious activity” around the recent spate of spills in the oil patch, but they do exemplify the cynical opportunism at play among environmental activists generally.
Recently the group, seeking to leverage an explosive derailment of tanker cars carrying North Dakota crude in West Virginia, engaged in hyperbole so absurd they even managed to lose the support of the very left-wing Fargo Forum editorial board.
The Forum is fond of trashing North Dakota’s Republican leaders over their stewardship of oil development (the paper’s candidate endorsements, which I’m told come from ownership and not the editors, are not at all reflective of their overall editorial stance), but still had trouble with the DRC blaming Republican state officials for putting the nation in danger.
“A news release said Gov. Jack Dalrymple shows ‘a troubling disregard of real problems with exploding Bakken oil trains,’” wrote the Forum. “Such fact-starved hyperbole lends credence to the charge that the people who lead the DRC are ‘radical environmentalists,’ and therefore should be dismissed and marginalized.”
Not only that, but it causes one to wonder if any “suspicious activity” around oil spills or pipeline leaks is the result of accidents or negligence, or the concerted efforts of those seeking to hamstring oil development by manufacturing negative headlines.
Let’s hope the “suspicious activity” recently alleged is investigated and the matter is settled one way or another. But as that happens, we should also question how secure pipelines and oil well sites are from vandalism and attacks, whatever the motivations.