Editorial: Slowdown Allows Time To Weigh Environmental Impacts

The oil slowdown is here. Is it long lasting? Will prices bounce back by the end of 2015? Or, will North Dakota’s Oil Patch cities suffer long-lasting economic impacts?

No one can answer those questions because no one can predict the future. History has shown, however, that oil prices don’t go down and stay down. They ebb and fl ow. Just as quickly as prices reach lows, they can quickly rocket to all-time highs.

Because of this ongoing fluctuation and uncertainty in the world market, the oil industry in western North Dakota is changing. The boom days are over. The days of a more moderated and economical approach are here as the industry in western North Dakota tries to catch up in all areas, from infrastructure to adapting their business to keep up with new prices. Companies are cutting jobs. Others aren’t doing anything.

As the industry slows to a more manageable pace, one area we encourage North Dakota legislators to openly talk about this session is the environment, and how even a Republican-dominated state can properly balance the oil industry with proper environmental management.

This past month, there were two major spills into bodies of water. One was an oil leak into the Yellowstone River, one of the Midwest’s greatest rivers and a source of drinking water for some Montana communities. Another was a brine water leak into a small creek that eventually worked its way to the Missouri River.

There are also issues relating to rule changes regarding the ongoing regulation of technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material, or TENORM. In the December issue, we wrote stories about northern Oil Patch farmers upset about saltwater disposal well breeches into their fields.

We know Republicans aren’t the party most likely to broach the subject of environmental legislation and regulation, but the proof is on the surface. There are issues that need to be addressed during this session, and now is the perfect time to do it.

Shoring up environmental regulations for the energy industry and increasing fi nes for those found to have made mistakes is not going to chase the industry out of the state.

Oil isn’t a reckless industry. It can’t afford to be.

The overwhelming majority of oil industry companies do everything right and by the book. But that doesn’t mean mistakes can’t happen.

If more regulation means protecting farmer’s fields and pastures, and drinking water sources, then we say, do it. It’s the right time to institute better policy when it comes to regulating radioactive material, brine and produced water, pipelines and responsibilities for spills — especially those involving water.