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View of the North Dakota plains and sunflower crops. (Image: Thomas Huston via Flickr)

Excerpts from recent North Dakota editorials

Pipelines still best approach

The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, April 7, 2016

Since the oil boom started the state has worked to increase the number of pipelines moving oil. The state lacked the infrastructure at the beginning to move the product and as a result trucks and trains became prime movers of oil. The Tribune has long supported the construction of more pipelines.

During the height of the boom the oil patch traffic became heavy and deadly. Train accidents involving North Dakota oil created concern across the nation. So it makes sense to shift to pipelines, but there are safety fears with them.

The Friends of Lake Sakakawea had the right idea when they recently held a public information meeting with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the public. One goal of the meeting was to explain to people the permitting process companies must follow to get pipelines approved and how the public can get involved. Specifically, the meeting was interested in pipelines that cross the lake and other water.

Since the 1950s, the corps has permitted 32 pipelines on federal land around Lake Sakakawea with nine crossing the lake. Eight more that have been proposed in the past seven years are being reviewed by the corps. One of the proposals, the 570,000 barrels-per-day Dakota Access Pipeline, faces support and opposition.

“I’m pro-pipeline, but we want them developed responsibly,” Travis Hallam, pipeline safety officer and acting tribal pipeline authority for Three Affiliated Tribes, told the meeting. The tribes made known their preference for how pipelines are built when they opposed two pipelines because they would not bore down under the bedrock of Lake Sakakawea as does the Dakota Access Pipeline. The corps also prefers directional drilling under the lake.

Hallam said one of the reasons the tribes support pipelines is to reduce the number of highway fatalities.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe takes a different approach. Kelly Morgan, tribal archaeologist for the tribe, said the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opposes all pipelines going across water. “We can live without oil, but we cannot live without our water …. We know that pipelines break; we know there’s spills,” Morgan said. Standing Rock is concerned because Dakota Access is 1,000 feet from the reservation boundary and upstream of several important water uptakes. They fear accidents could contaminate their water supply.

Morgan’s right about the importance of safety, which has been getting a lot of attention.

New pipelines, according to the corps, must have Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition remote monitoring systems with shut-offs on both sides of the lake. Also, the corps is requiring thicker pipelines than what is required by the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Older pipelines are getting attention. They are undergoing pigging — a process in which a device travels through the pipeline cleaning and taking measurements, including wall thickness — every three years rather than the five years as required. Hess Corp., which has six pipelines around the lake, has decommissioned some of its pipelines that have shown structural weaknesses, Casey Buechler, lake manager, reported.

Unfortunately, whether you move oil by truck, rail car or pipeline there’s a certain amount of risk. Pipelines, if done right, appear to be the safest approach. The strict requirements for the pipelines are essential. And the Friends of Lake Sakakawea had the right idea – inform the public and get them involved.

Steps also are being taken in a case of an accident. Pipeline operators have held six spill response drills on the lake with three more scheduled this summer.

On Standing Rock last week a ride was held to protest Dakota Access and a spirit camp established to continue the fight against the pipeline. While the Tribune supports the pipeline, we also believe it’s important all concerns are considered. We support the safest pipeline possible, one that provides the benefits of oil and doesn’t harm priceless water.

An uncomfortable truth about the drug problem

Minot Daily News, Minot, April 7, 2016

By now, most people are aware of the challenge of drug addiction facing Minot and every other community in the country.

The problem manifests itself slightly differently in different places, based on a number of factors. In some communities, heroin addiction is the most significant problem. In other places, it is meth. Issues with designer drugs (“mollies,” a combination of Ecstasy and speed) and materials suddenly introduced into communities (like “bath salts”) cause problems from time to time in different places and among different populations.

We know the intrinsic danger of addiction. We know the price in terms of human lives, law enforcement, treatment, etc. We know that the addict’s need for these drugs leads to crime, broken homes, abuse, homelessness.

There is one component of addition some are less comfortable recognizing. That is that our health-care system is often the “gateway drug” for addicts.

The proliferation of opioid pain killers might just be the most dangerous drug plague in the nation. These opioids, such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin have become the most prescribed medicines in the country. They are powerful and very addictive. We are seeing numerous stories about their abuse, about addiction to them and about their danger. Yes, stories abound about the lengths to which addicts will go to get the pills, the huge black market for them and the ravaging effects on human lives.

However, we hear fewer stories about people who become hooked on opioid prescriptions even those taking them legitimately and subsequent to coming off the medicine, can’t shake the habit and “graduate” to other, street drugs. In many communities, illegal narcotics such as heroin and meth, are cheaper and easier to acquire than pills.

We have an image of the drug peddler who hooks our kids. We don’t often think of them as our doctors.

Of course most doctors don’t prescribe these pills with ill intent. Most are probably dispensing them responsibly. But the odds are, if you work in even a mid-size business, you could ask around and someone will know a doctor with a reputation for being liberal with painkillers.

Furthermore, one doctor previously with a major national health-care provider asserted that the way ER doctors were evaluated by their superiors practically incentivized dispensing dangerous pills. Doctors in the system were graded based on how ER visitors who were not hospitalized felt in terms of “satisfaction” when leaving the ER. Given the huge numbers of people who show up in ERs looking to feed their drug habits, the only way for a doctor to “satisfy” patients was to prescribe what the patient wanted.

That’s a scary system.

Clearly there is a need for narcotic painkillers. Given how easily their use can lead to the abuse of other drugs, the problem may well be more serious than many have thought.

Related news: Governor says North Dakota is weathering energy, ag slump

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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