The oil drilling process in North Dakota involves injecting large amounts of silica sand into the ground, along with toxic chemicals, in order to separate the light crude oil from the shale rock. Energy use is intensive as the oil is fracked (sandblasted) from the shale rock at high pressures (up to 4000 pounds per square inch).
Well output drops significantly after the first year and new wells have to be constantly drilled. Issues related to North Dakota oil extraction are:
Silica Sand Mining in Minnesota
Silica sand is shipped in from communities in Southeastern Minnesota and Wisconsin where frack sand mining is occurring. In Minnesota, there are several active mines operating near Winona, St. Peter, Sand Creek and Woodbury.
The process of mining, trucking and shipping the sand via train sends silica dust and diesel fuel emissions into the air where they can be breathed in by those who work and live nearby. Crystalline silica and diesel emissions are hazardous to human health. Exposure can cause silicosis, emphysema and lung cancer. It can also affect the immune system.
Truck and rail transport has caused increased congestion, and increased wear on rural roads and railroad tracks.
The mining of frack sand significantly changes the natural landscape, but there are concerns as well for what it is doing below ground. Frack sand is located in an area of the state with fractured limestone bedrock that is susceptible to sinkhole formations. Mining and blasting in those areas could result in more sinkholes, which could open the door to groundwater contamination.
Learn more about the environmental risks and health impacts of silica sand mining in Minnesota in this report from Minnesota's Environmental Quality Board.
In the process of drilling for oil in North Dakota, large amounts of natural gas are also released. This natural gas is not being captured but instead is being burned off – or “flared” – resulting in the release of massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere. In fact, these flares are so large they can be seen from the International Space Station in outer space. (Photo Credit: NASA)
Methane is 20 times more potent in trapping heat than carbon dioxide (learn more about methane). While methane may have shorter lifespan in the atmosphere (possibly as few as 20 years), the developers of the North Dakota oil fields are pushing tons and tons of methane into the atmosphere at a time when we desperately need to be reducing – not increasing – greenhouse gases.
Altered communities and Environment
The explosion of oil production in North Dakota has transformed communities with the introduction of man camps, human trafficking, loss of affordable housing, and severe traffic congestion. Passenger and freight trains have been unable to maintain schedules, and oil drilling encroaches upon the Teddy Roosevelt State Park. Oil spills pollute the land [Link to Dangers of Transporting Oil again or http://www.startribune.com/local/227319621.html]and illegal dumping of waste products along the side of the roads has increased.
In December 2013, a train carrying North Dakota crude oil struck a derailed train car. Oil tank cars burst into flames, resulting in evacuation of residents. This was the 3rd oil train explosion [Link to problems in oil transport] in just six months. It prompted a warning from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that crude from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale “may be more flammable” than other oil types.
Indeed, a graphic from the Wall Street journal shows the volatility of various types of oil, with North Dakota oil 2 to 4 times more volatile than oil from other countries or other parts of the US. North Dakota sweet oil measured 8.56 psi; North Sea oil measured 6.17, Louisiana sweet oil measured 3.33 and oil from Angola measured 2.66.
Road accidents have also dramatically increased since the number of trucks on rural North Dakota roads has also increased.
That’s why it’s so important that we TAKE ACTION TODAY to keep North Dakota oil in the ground.