As pipelines leak, and Bakken soil is poisoned, North Dakota politicians snuggle closer to oil tycoons
By C.S. Hagen
FARGO – The collusion between might and money historically has been the beginning of the end for countless empires.
From China’s Shang Dynasty more than 3,000 years ago to the American Revolutionary War against a corrupt monarchy, when power marries money, downfall always follows.
North Dakota government’s collusion with private corporations is “so expansive that there does not appear to be a sense in the general public where there is anything wrong with this,” Barry Nelson of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition said.
It was the same when ancient China’s King Zhou Xin created a pond filled with wine to float on, or when King George III raised taxes on the colonies to fill royal coffers. Both leaders, at the pinnacle of empire, decided not to listen to what was right, but to what they thought was profitable.
No ethics committees or commissions exist within the Peace Garden State. Instead, the North Dakota Century Code leaves ethical decisions up to the individual.
“The resolution of ethical problems must rest largely in the individual conscience… to resist influences that may bias a member’s independent judgment,” North Dakota legislation reports.
Today, the Dakota Access Pipeline is leaking, and the Bakken earth is poisoned. Politicians are welcoming slick-talking oil tycoons like conquering heroes. Despite a United Nations condemnation of state militarized tactics in March, little, if anything, has changed in the Peace Garden State. Hundreds the 761 activists arrested during the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy still await trial, adding to the approximately $38 million the state has already spent militarizing local police and quelling the disquiet outside of Standing Rock. And while litigation continues, it’s business as usual for state politicians.
On April 19 Valley News Live “Point of View” Anchor Chris Berg posted pictures of Congressman Kevin Cramer R-ND, ceremoniously giving Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren the pen President Trump used to sign the DAPL executive order. Additionally, Berg thanked Warren online for traveling to the Peace Garden State, and asked Governor Doug Burgum – not for the first time – if the state would accept a fat check from the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners.
It is a move many suggest is similar to the age of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency collusion with the federal government. Warren continues to offer to pay in full the state’s expenditures used in militarizing police and cracking down on Standing Rock and the No DAPL movement.
So far, the offer has not been rejected by state politicians.
North Dakota will receive up to $15 million in federal funding for costs incurred during the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, according to Governor Burgum’s office.
“We’re committed to pursuing all avenues available to hold the federal government responsible and ensure that North Dakota taxpayers alone don’t bear the enormous costs of law enforcement and other resources expended on the protests,” Burgum said.
Burgum also sent a letter to President Trump stating that the federal government is significantly responsible for costs due to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ failure to enforce regulations.
“Ethically, it has all the appearances – it has a smell to it – it seems to be undue influence of one industry, one company, on federal and state governments, and you want to believe the government is there to make sure all sides of the issue are addressed,” Nelson said.
During the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, the state was not looking out for all sides of the dispute, rather to assist oil industry’s agenda, Nelson said.
“It’s one thing when it feels like collusion between a government official, in this case Kevin Cramer, and a corporate head of a private industry, in this case a pipeline company, if the general public feels all of this was perfectly justified, then what is considered right and wrong anymore? It makes you step back. The North Dakota Human Rights Coalition believes that this kind of collusion between private industry and government is wrong. Good cannot come out of this.
“It speaks so much about power and money against the people.”
Bakken earth is poisoned, according an April 27, 2016 study released by Duke University, funded by the National Science Foundation, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and published in the Environmental Science & Technology magazine. The study shows that accidental wastewater spills from “unconventional oil production in North Dakota have caused widespread water and soil contamination.”
Much of the poisons come from brine, or saltwater used in frakking, and is non-biodegradable.
More than 9,700 wells have been drilled in the Bakken region of North Dakota in the past decade, which led to more than 3,900 brine spills, primarily from faulty pipes, the report states.
The water studied in some spill sites was unsafe to drink, the study reported.
High levels of ammonium, selenium, lead, and salts have been found in the soil; streams have been polluted by wastewater, which contain contaminants, according to the study. Soil along spill sites has also been contaminated with radium, a radioactive element.
“Many smaller spills have also occurred on tribal lands, and as far as we know, no one is monitoring them,” Avner Vengosh, a researcher and a professor of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Duke University said. “People who live on the reservations are being left to wonder how it might affect their land, water, health and way of life.”
The spills are primarily coming from pipelines in the Bakken area, he said. The spill areas have not affected reservoirs for human drinking water, but some are close. Everyone shudders when news of an oil spill breaks headlines; brine spills are far more frightening, he said.
“Nature cannot heal from inorganic brine spills,” Vengosh said. “The contaminants are going to stay. You can dilute and over time this will help, but the actual concentration will remain.”
In other words, areas where the brine spills have occurred in the Bakken region must be completely removed and disposed of. Radiation, which could spread by wild animals, is another concern that is difficult to control.
“And the more wells you drill, the more spills you have,” Vengosh said..
The narrative spun by the state has assumed that the need for militarized security was because of out-of-state environmental terrorists who chose to stake their claim here, Nelson said. “So no responsibility is placed on bad decisions made by the state legislators, that the company violated laws and did things that were illegal. None of that is laid at their doorstep. All is on the doorstep of people coming from around the country, and locally from Standing Rock.
“It’s blaming the rape victim that they got raped.”
Additionally, the 1,100-mile-long Dakota Access Pipeline, made from “sterner stuff” according to politicians and engineers, and with Russian steel, according to DeSmog, has already leaked 84 gallons in South Dakota. A storage tank outside of Keene, North Dakota spilled 25,620 gallons when an operator overfilled the tank, according to North Dakota Department of Health.
Both spills took investigators a month to announce the mishaps to the public.
“This spills serves as a reminder that it is not a matter of if a pipeline spills, it’s a matter of when a pipeline spills,” Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said. “The fact that this occurred before Dakota Access even becomes operational is all the more concerning. We fear more spills will come to bear, which is an all too frequent situation with Energy Transfer Partners pipeline projects. As such, eyes of the world are watching and will keep Dakota Access and Energy Transfer Partners accountable.”
Although most of the world thinks Standing Rock’s movement is dead, remnants remain. For months, Facebook statuses reported former Dakota Access Pipeline activists, or water protectors, felt lost after the February closing of the camps outside Standing Rock. Dozens of cases have been thrown out of court, but not all.
Some water protectors are still wandering. Others have found new causes defending water at Flint, Michigan, Dresden, Ohio, and against the Piñon Pipeline in New Mexico. Activists have also set up the Four Band Great Sioux Nation Camp on Standing Rock land.
The movement against big oil, for native rights and clean water, has spurred at least fifteen new camps to life around the country, according to Rev. Karen Van Fossan, a minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship & Church of Bismarck-Mandan.
A “Stand with Standing Rock” banner hangs outside her church, a congregation that has been in Bismarck for 65 years. During the controversy her church and church members housed at least 250 activists. The stance her church takes on the issue has created controversy in Bismarck she said, but is also a blessing in disguise.
“Some of us who are white, and haven’t experienced racism in any kind of real way, have now had some glimpse of what that experience might be like,” Fossan said.
“In my experience, the water protector movement has given us in North Dakota an opportunity to face some pretty harsh realities about racism in our state. I sometimes hear it said that race relations are more strained now than they have been in some time, and people of color who I know tell me actually, the racism has been there.
“Now it is just that all of us are taking the opportunity to look at it and contend with it.”
State support of big business has trampled indigenous rights, but has given the state a unique opportunity for change.
“I have been increasingly concerned about the role of many governmental entities, locally and statewide, promoting the interests of business and painfully ignoring other voices,” Fossan, who is also a writer, said.
“Even while I’m deeply disturbed by the executive order to push the pipeline through against the very clear voices of Standing Rock and many other native nations, I do see that here locally in Bismarck and Mandan, we continue to have an opportunity like we haven’t had in a long time to look at the reality of life in our communities, and the reality of racism. Not just personal visible racism that many indigenous people and people of color in our communities experience regularly, but the systems themselves are already rolling along in ways that at best ignore indigenous voices and at worst push a pipeline through, and manifest in the arrests of hundreds of people.”