Friday, 9 March 2012

Dialog Good Start for The Bakken

I attended a very interesting session this week called the Sporting and Oil Industry Forum. The purpose of the meeting was to establish a dialog between North Dakota’s oil and gas industry and the State’s conservation leaders. Hunters and fisherman were represented by virtually all of the conservation/hunting groups. I was representing Delta.  Pheasants Forever, DU, Mule Deer Foundation, NWTF, RMEF, Audubon and several others were there as well.

North Dakota, long the butt of countless jokes and only in the news when 14 foot drifts cover our highways or someone dies of lutefisk poisoning, finds itself in the rare position of being newsworthy. Unemployment is staggeringly low, the agricultural economy is strong and oil and gas development is proceeding at a frantic pace. North Dakota is well endowed with great duck and other habitat. It has wonderfully nice people.  It is also blessed with remarkable resources. Coal, a long-term staple in the State is now joined by wind development and the emergence of the Bakken formation, one of the largest domestic sources of oil and natural gas. North Dakota news outlets refer to the Bakken as the American Saudi Arabia. The people of North Dakota are movin’ on up.

Yet with any such development, there are pains.  Natural resources and the wild places where we hunt and fish are put under new pressures I recognize the need for energy independence as much as anyone (recent surging gas prices illustrate the need if we needed yet another illustration), but I do have concern for the birds we love and the places they rely on. There are implications for a beautifully wild and wonderful landscape.

I love the grasslands and potholes of northwestern North Dakota where I gunned bluebills and saw my first whooping crane. What was a wild place just 8 years ago, is a bustling industrial scene, a far cry from when one could wander the prairie for days with nary a rusty pick-up to greet you.

The current reality is that the Bakken will be developed to the extent that our technology allows us to mine oil two miles below the prairie.  The goal of the forum this week  was to bring industry and conservation leaders together, to ensure that development does not come at the expense of these resources. If we work in a frank, scientifically sound and collegial manner, we can put mechanisms in place to ensure we meet our energy needs as well as provide for the habitat, fish and game that are so precious.

I find solace in the fact that we can have this dialog.  It gives us a chance to chart a brighter future and avoid the acrimony and damage of past mistakes. I am hopeful that discussions between conservation and energy on the front end of development can alleviate long-term consequences for natural resources. I am emboldened by the simple fact hunters, conservationists and industry leaders are willing, able and ready to work together.  These are positives steps indeed and set the table for fruitful work in the future.

I look forward to representing you as this working group moves ahead.  Ducks and duck hunters will have a voice on this issue. I will keep you apprised of what happens next and see if the outcomes are consistent with my current enthusiasm. We will see if we can meet the needs of energy development and maintain large fall flights of ducks and abundance of other critters. A tall task for sure, but one that took a large step forward this week as people cared enough to work together to make a difference.


  1. Hi John: Glad someone is at least recognizing the threat to the beauty of the landscape as well as the wildlife habitat. Not sure if we can save the pristine aspects of the prairies due to the sheer size of the current oil & gas production play and its huge socio-economic impact.
    I have grown up in Alberta hunting and enjoying our wild places but sadly have witnessed the carnage inflicted onto the landscape by oil & gas development as well as by increased agricultural and other industrial activities.It has been heart-breaking to say the least.What is most destructive is the fact that what were once nice little trails are soon turned into high-volume, heavy-truck bearing grid roads slicing up the native prairie. We will get our increased oil & gas production but unfortunately it will come at a heavy cost not only to the environment itself but also to the intrinsic beauty and heart-felt value of vanishing wild & serene wilderness. The O & G industry needs to minimize the amount of roads being built as well as focus road placement along fencelines or other current disturbances if possible. They could also do something to reduce the amount of eyesore ugliness factor caused by their presence.
    People need to ask themselves what is of more value: cheaper gas or somewhere we can go to hunt and escape the crowds and rat-race?
    I hope North Dakota can retain most of its serenity, sanity and integrity.

  2. The key is getting "control" of the reclamation!

  3. Undoubtedly the footprint of the development is going to change the face of the prairies forever. Here in Texas we have lived with the impact of the oil business for years. Old scars exist on the landscape from development in the years before we became more conscious of the footprint this extractive industry left behind. To its credit, the modern oil industry has lead the way in many fields in lessening its impact on the landscape. There will be an impact, and it will likely be in the network of roads used to access drilling and production sites. Those roads will be used. The prairie will no longer be empty of obvious signs of human impact. The impact will be primarily aesthetic, the days of rampant pollution from oil extraction are over. Roads, once established are hard to erase after the extraction has ceased in a century or so. The bright side is that energy extraction brings enormous wealth and the opportunity to fund conservation initiatives that heretofore we could only dream about for lack of funding. Get out in front of the inevitable development and use the new found wealth for the good of the ducks.

  4. Hello: I posted the March 14 message about pending disaster for North Dakota. Here is part of an article which describes what I predict will only become worse. It is disgusting to see this happen anywhere, let alone North Dakota:
    By JAMES MacPHERSON, The Associated Press, Updated: March 26, 2012 10:19 AM
    'Urine jugs,' other trash flourish in ND oil patch

    TIOGA, N.D. - Along the wide-open expanses and rolling prairie of western North Dakota surrounding the state's booming oil patch, all sorts of bizarre litter can be found clogging the once picturesque roadside: Derelict hardhats, single boots, buckets, pallets, pieces of machinery, shredded semi tires, oily clothing, cigarette butts.

    The worst? Plastic jugs of urine pitched out windows as scores of truckers pass through oil country.

    Litter has become an escalating problem as the rush to tap vast caches of crude escalates in North Dakota. As the number of trucks coming to the oil mecca increases, so does the trash. Some of the industrial rubbish blows in from unsecured truckloads, but for many, the most frustrating trash is the gallons of discarded urine.

    The problem has local leaders and rural residents scratching their heads. There's no money to build new rest stops, and once-eager community volunteers are less willing to pick up junk now because they don't want to handle human waste. So little has been done to address the problem, save for upgrading mowing tractors with cabs to protect operators from getting sprayed with urine when the jugs are hit by a wheel or blade.

    The oil rush has brought the promise of prosperity to the state but it also has radically altered its landscape and culture. Nodding donkey pumps now rise from the once barren prairie, and there's been an influx of thousands of outsiders seeking their fortune in the oil patch. North Dakota has leapfrogged past a half-dozen states since 2006 to become the nation's No. 3 oil producer, and state officials estimate North Dakota will surpass Alaska and will trail only Texas within a year.

    Tioga citizens, fed up by littered roadways leading to their town, cleaned up part of the highway south of the city last spring. In less than one mile, volunteers picked up more than two heaping truckloads of rubbish.