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Tour looks into saltwater pipeline damage

MINOT, N.D. – A tour planned for Monday aims to draw attention to an area north of here where oil development is blamed for damaging the land, something organizers say could happen in the Bakken if precautions aren’t taken.
“My goal with this tour is to wake up our state officials,” said Donny Nelson, a farmer and rancher in McKenzie County, who is leading a tour to Bottineau County.

The tour, which was planned before a 20,600-barrel oil spill was discovered in Tioga, will include stops at sites where pipelines leaked and spilled saltwater, a byproduct of oil production that is 20 times saltier than seawater.

One of the spills, discovered by a farmer in 2011, severely affected 23 acres of cropland and shallow ponds, and the North Dakota Department of Health is still working with the company to clean it up, said Kris Roberts, environmental geologist with the department’s Division of Water Quality.

Nelson, who does not own land in Bottineau County but lives in the heart of the Bakken near Keene, said he wants to raise awareness of a legacy of damage that occurred in an older North Dakota oilfield.

“Those same things that have happened up there have happened here, just not on the same scale,” said Nelson, who is past chairman of the Dakota Resource Council. This tour is not sponsored by the council.

Fintan Dooley, a Milwaukee attorney whose mother homesteaded a few miles from the focal point of the tour, also is helping organize the event. Dooley said he has concerns about salt damage to the land related to oil development and would like the state to take an accounting of the land that has been damaged.

“There’s a huge legacy of lands that will never be productive again,” Dooley said.

Several state officials received invitations to the tour. The public also is invited to the tour, which begins at 10:30 a.m. Monday starting from the junction of U.S. Highway 83 and North Dakota Highway 5, which is 35 miles north of Minot.

State Rep. Bob Hunksor, D-Newburg, said he plans to attend but is not one of the event’s organizers.

“To have folks go out and look at damage that was done in past years puts a little bit more emphasis on let’s do everything we possibly can to ensure these things are minimized as much as possible for the future,” Hunksor said.

Others invited include Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who serve on the North Dakota Industrial Commission, and State Engineer Todd Sando.

Dooley said he’s received a response that a staff member from the State Water Commission is attending. Dalrymple and Goehring are among the members of the Water Commission.

David Glatt, chief of the North Dakota Department of Health Environmental Health Section, said he’s notified the group he can’t attend the tour but said he’d be happy to look at the sites with them another time.

Nelson said he’s disappointed with the response from state officials.

Nelson and Dooley said they’re considering taking legal action because they believe elected and appointed state officials have breached their duties as public trustees to protect the state’s water and productivity of land.

“This tour is their chance to do their public duty. We’re giving them an out here. If they do come, maybe they’ll understand what’s going on and they’ll do their duty and we won’t have to come to that extreme measure,” Nelson said. “But it seems to me that they don’t even want to come and see it.”

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