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Many more fracking tragedies for farmers and ranchers in North Dakota

Amy Mall

Posted December 7, 2012 in Health and the Environment

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Recently I blogged about the Schilke ranch in the Bakken shale, which has 32 oil wells within three miles of it. The Schilkes have sick cattle and pets, and the Schilkes themselves report they are seriously ill.

A new article in The Guardian tells the story of other North Dakota farmers and ranchers who are experiencing financial or personal ruin due to Bakken drilling. 

There are at least 25 oil wells within two miles of the Jorgensen ranch in the Bakken shale. The Guardian explains how the Jorgensens' lives changed dramatically beginning in 2010. That year they report that they lost 80 olive trees due to a combination of wellpad and pit construction, a loss of their water source, and exposure to fracking fluid. Then in 2012, their seven-year-old granddaughter woke up screaming from a headache and Mrs. Jorgensen stopped hanging laundry outside because the air burned her nostrils. An emergency on their ranch heightened their feelings of helplessness: a gas flare went out out and they smelled hydrogen sulfide, which can be fatal. They did not have an emergency contact for the oil company and there wasn't even any way to leave a message on the company's office phone.

This article also tells the story of Don Nelson, a wheat and hay farmer. A seven-acre well pad was built in the middle of a 20-acre field, and made the entire 20 acres useless to him. He still has to pay taxes on the 20 acres of unusable farmland. We have heard similar stories from other farmers around the country in split estate situations.

The Guardian article, like the article in The Nation, discusses the massive dust problems in the Bakken. As I blogged about previously, some cattle are dying from dust pneumonia. One rancher reports that her cattle sometimes reject their feed because "It's so full of dirt you have to wash it or nothing will eat it," and "Sometimes the hay has so much dirt the cattle won't even lay on it."

North Dakota has experienced spills, blow-outs, accidents, and now apparently serious harm to its residents and their livelihoods. State regulators need to create much stronger rules and greatly increase enforcement, especially for split estate victims.

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Comments

anthonyDec 7 2012 03:16 PM

I have been attempting to track those who oppose and are for the growth in the Bakken. I notice a trend of people who are complaining about the oil growth in the Bakken are usually people who sold there rights for pennys in the past? Do these familys have any type of royalties?

Alex LotortoDec 7 2012 03:46 PM

Hey Anthony, this article from Mother Jones talks about how mineral rights were sold generations ago for a pittance. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/11/my-secret-life-fracking-kingpin

LHDec 10 2012 10:31 AM

Anthony - that's a shameless attempt to minimize the problem by saying any complaints are just the result of "sour grapes" because people didn't get rich. The amount of money these people gained in selling their mineral rights is entirely irrelevant to any scientific analysis of real and/or potential health and environmental damage.

Amy MallDec 10 2012 10:55 AM

Some of the people concerned about the environment, health and safety impacts of oil production own mineral rights, and many don't. Those who don't own the mineral rights beneath their land cannot control what happens on their own property. Those who own their mineral rights may or may not be fairly compensated, but either way may have had no idea about the types of impacts they, their families, or their livestock would have to endure.

Michael BerndtsonDec 11 2012 11:16 AM

Amy,
I found an interesting report from Arkansas Dept. of Env. Quality and a paper prepared by David Lyon and Toby Chu. Apparently Lyon now works for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). For some reason it was made clear that EDF's views aren't reflected in the results as stated clearly on the front page of the paper.

Anyway, air monitoring in and around fracking delivery and early operations was performed for the Fayetteville Shale area in Arkansas. What grabbed my attention was the mass balance of on products of combustion from operations and VOCs from venting and process operation emissions. Specifically, methane (CH4) was calculated to be 10 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2). A majority of the CH4 emissions was from well head venting. On the one hand that seems logical and expected. On the other hand, CH4 is purportedly 20 times more active as a greenhouse gas. That would put fugitive methane as a larger contributor to the GHG thing over carbon dioxide.

And more to the point, this study focused on drilling (delivery phase) and early startup operations - not long term operations. That would not include surface emissions flux and continual venting or re-conditioning.

If you've already seen this report, sorry to clog up NRDC's servers.

David Lyon and Toby Chu
http://www.epa.gov/ttnchie1/conference/ei20/session6/dlyon.pdf

Here's the abstract from the paper cited above:

"Natural gas production in the Fayetteville Shale region of north central Arkansas has grown rapidly since horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing began in 2004. Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality received a grant from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop an emissions inventory for gas production activities in the Fayetteville Shale for the year 2008, coupled with ambient air monitoring around gas sites.

Annual emissions from gas production in the Fayetteville Shale were estimated to be 5,002 tons nitrogen oxides (NOX), 977 tons volatile organic compounds (VOC), 674 tons particulate matter ≤ 10 µm (PM10), 3,377 tons carbon monoxide (CO), 128 tons sulfur dioxide (SO2), 112,877 tons methane (CH4), and 1,225,643 tons carbon dioxide (CO2). Compressor station engines used for gathering and transporting gas were the largest source of NOX, VOC, CO, SO2, and CO2 emissions. Drilling rigs and hydraulic fracturing pumps used in well drilling and completion were the largest source of PM10 emissions. Well flowback venting and fugitive sources were the primary source of CH4 emissions.

Ambient air monitoring was performed around the perimeter of six drilling sites, three hydraulic
fracturing sites, four compressor stations, and one control site. Although most pollutant concentrations were below detection limits, VOC concentrations at drilling sites were often elevated around site perimeters with average daily concentrations reaching 678 parts per billion (ppb). The spatiotemporal distribution of VOC concentrations at drilling sites was significantly affected by wind direction and suggests open tanks of oil-based drilling mud and cuttings were the source of VOC emissions. "

Here's the full report from Arkansas Department of Environmental Quaity:

http://www.adeq.state.ar.us/air/pdfs/fayetteville_shale_air_quality_report.pdf

Amy MallDec 11 2012 04:12 PM

Thank you for this information.

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