Another Oil Patch Roundup

There so much news coming out of the Oil Patch I can hardly absorb it. And, frankly, it scares the hell out of me. Partly because there really are things to be scared about, and partly because there is so much misinformation being spread around that I feel we’re in daily danger of not being able to trust anyone, and not be able to tell when we’re being lied to. For example:


The Forum today reports:

The Bureau of Land Management’s North Dakota office is sitting on more than 500 oil and gas drilling permit applications, the White House told Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s office this week.

Which prompted this response from Heitkamp:

(Heitkamp) said companies with rigs with outstanding permits may move to private land because they’re sick of waiting. “We’ve been keeping pretty close tabs on all of these impacts.”

Which prompted this response from North Dakota Petroleum Council spokesperson Tessa Sandstrom:

NDPC spokeswoman Tessa Sandstrom said the shutdown will only add to delays. “They already struggle to keep up,” she said of the BLM. “Now they’re just gonna be that much further behind.”

Okay, ladies, stop with the bullshit. Neither one of you knows what you’re talking about, or if you do, you’re being deceitful.

First, Senator Heitkamp. Heidi, you’ve been snookered. You don’t really believe companies with drilling permits are sitting around a campfire out on the National Grasslands waiting for a federal permit, do you? “May move to private land because they’re tired of waiting.”? C’mon.

  • Every single drilling rig the industry can get its hands on is active. None are sitting idle.
  • If you check the oil and gas division website, you’ll find that the number of rigs drilling on federal land in any given month since the boom started varies between 0 and 6. More often 0 than 6. Mostly, there are just one or two drilling rigs on federal land. Why? Because the industry has ten-year leases on federal land, and just three or five year leases on private land, so they have to get those private leases drilled before they expire, or they will lose their investment in the lease. There’s no rush on the federal leases.

Second, Tessa Sandstrom. Read what I just wrote to Heidi. You are being disingenuous by saying there are going to be more “delays” to the oil industry. That’s B.S. and you know it. There’s not going to be a line of oil company executives standing outside the door of the BLM office when it reopens for business. Or any time after that. The oil companies are so busy drilling in Mountrail and Divide and Williams counties, etc., that they are not even paying attention to their federal leases. It’s bullshit like this that causes you to lose credibility with people like me.

For the record, here are the numbers of drilling rigs working on federal land so far in the calendar year 2013 (you can get this yourself from the Oil and Gas Division website):











Date the BLM shut its doors because of the federal: shutdown: October 1, 2013.


Here’s another report from Today’s Forum:

BISMARCK — Scientists who helped calculate oil spilled from a broken BP well into the Gulf of Mexico are questioning the methodology used to estimate the amount of crude that recently leaked from a ruptured pipeline into a wheat field in northwestern North Dakota. Tesoro Corp. said it came up with its more than 20,000-barrel spill estimate using ground analysis. But oil spill experts say a more accurate assessment likely would come from calculating how much crude went into the pipeline versus what was supposed to come out at its terminus. (emphasis mine)

To calculate the amount of oil spilled, Tesoro, in a statement issued to the Associated Press, said its “site investigation was developed based on well-established and recognized American Petroleum Institute, Geologic Society of America and American Institute of Professional Geologists standards.”

But wait. Someone from the Associated Press decided to call the Geologic Society of America and the American Institute of Professional Geologists to verify that claim. Again, from The Forum story:

Jack Hess, executive director of the Geologic Society of America, and Bill Siok, executive director of the American Institute of Professional Geologists, said their groups have no such standards. (emphasis mine)

            “We’ve never issued any guidelines over oil spills,” Hess said. “That’s not the kind of business we are in and something we wouldn’t get into.”

            Siok said: “I’m stumped. I kind of suspect they made an incorrect reference.”

Yeah. Or something like that. That was pretty polite there, Mr. Siok. I wonder what you said privately in your telephone call to Tesoro. Something like “#@%&%$#@%***&%$@***,” maybe?

In other words, if we are to believe expert geologists with no dog in the fight, we have no idea how much really leaked. Once more from The Forum:

Purdue University engineering professor Steve Wereley said Tesoro’s calculation of how much oil it released in the North Dakota wheat field likely is “at best, a guess.” Wereley, who along with other scientists helped estimate the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf in 2010, said he was unaware of any scientific studies that could back Tesoro’s estimates. Wereley and Ian MacDonald, a Florida State University oceanographer who also worked on spill estimates in the Gulf, said detailed oil flow data from the pipeline would provide regulators with a better estimate of the amount of crude spilled in North Dakota.

So it is time, right now, to go to Tesoro headquarters, wherever that is, and request some numbers. Like, how much oil went into that pipeline, and how much came out. What’s missing is what is in Steve Jensen’s field in Williams County. Dave Glatt, chief of the North Dakota Health Department’s environmental health section had a very defensive letter to the editor in most of the state’s daily papers this morning—methinks he doth protest too much. In it he says “Tesoro’s report indicated that the spill did not pose any apparent danger to public safety and didn’t threaten ground water or surface water supplies. A preliminary assessment by state officials also found no threat to public health or water supplies.” Well, take a look at this picture of the spill site. I don’t know about you, but I think I see quite a bit of water in that trench in the middle of the photo. Anyway, Glatt says he’s going to do some checking. And then, probably about ten or twelve days later, he’ll share what he learned with us.



The news in the Tribune today is about record production of oil and natural gas in North Dakota. “We blew through 900,000 barrels per day in August . . . 1 billion cubic feet of gas,” North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said.

Later in the story, the Tribune reported that Helms reported that we flared 9.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas in August. 9.4 billion. With a B. I’m an English major, and don’t do math very well, but I’ve tried to relate that to something I can understand. So I got out my MDU bill file, and found the coldest month I could find, to see how much natural gas we used to heat our house. Says we used about 30 dekatherms one month. That’s the highest I could find. Mr. Google helped me convert that to cubic feet. 30 dekatherms is about 29,000 cubic feet. That’s the most we have used in one month in our house. But that’s just the coldest month. Because Lillian keeps good records, I was able to determine that over a normal year’s time, we use about an average of 12.5 dekatherms, or 12,000 cubic feet, of natural gas per month to heat and cool our house. Of course, we are kind of stingy, and we wear sweaters in the winter and tee shirts and shorts in the summer, keeping the thermometer about 68 in the winter and 78 in the summer. But still . . .

We here in North Dakota are flaring 9.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas every month. Doing the math (I had to drop a zero from each number, because my little hand-held calculator doesn’t have enough zeros to accommodate 9.4 billion, but I think I got it right), 9.4 billion cubic feet flared, divided by the average 12,000 cubic feet per month we use at our house, we are flaring enough gas to heat and cool about 780,000 houses like ours. Forever. If everyone dressed like us. Every house in North and South Dakota and another 100,000 in Minnesota.

Or, to put it another way, if we could take all the natural gas that we are going to burn at the wellhead in the next 30 days, and store it in a really big tank, and run a line from that tank to my house, I could keep my house at 68 degrees in the winter and 78 in the summer for the next 65,000 years.

That our Industrial Commission—Wayne Stenehjem, Doug Goehring and Jack Dalrymple—would let our production get that far ahead of our takeaway system is unconscionable. It is the most irresponsible thing our state—any state—has ever done. Not only is it horribly wasteful, but it is pumping untold amounts of pollutants into the air. It should stop right now. It is another reason why WE SHOULD STOP ISSUING DRILLING PERMITS RIGHT NOW. Do you think the Industrial Commission in 1980, composed of Art Link, Myron Just and Allen Olson, would have allowed this? Or the Industrial Commission in 1992, composed of George Sinner, Sarah Vogel and Nick Spaeth? Or any other Industrial Commission, dating back to statehood?  Of course not. Those three men are an embarrassment to our state. Let the oil flow. Let the bank balance grow. Let the gas glow. Sad.


Yesterday I wrote about Wayne Stenehjem’s secret task force and the secret meetings it’s been holding. I also sent an e-mail to Wayne’s spokesperson, Liz Brocker, asking her:

I understand either the Attorney General or the Industrial Commission has appointed a task force to provide advice on “special places” in North Dakota. Who can provide me information about that?

Here’s what she wrote back:

There’s no formal task force. Wayne has met with folks who have specialized backgrounds and ideas on oil development issues, to provide advice and guidance to him. This is not an appointment from the Industrial Commission, just one member seeking assistance from people with ideas of their own for him to weigh.

No “formal” task force. Just a task force that has held two meetings in the Attorney General’s conference room.

“Wayne has met with folks . . .” Yeah, right, he met with them at organized meetings of a group of 10 or 11 people, including other state employees, in his office. I know. I talked to some of them after Monday’s meeting. Wonder if he paid mileage? Or if the counties whose commissioners are part of the task force got stuck for the bill?

Who do they think they’re kidding? Don’t they know that most of us who aren’t lawyers can see through that “lawyer talk” that probably is technically correct, or almost so, but designed to obfuscate the reality of what is going on.

Wayne offered to meet with me to talk about it. Y’know, there was a day when we used to have  a beer once in a while, or have a smoke when the Legislators had a smoking lounge behind the Senate chambers, and I enjoyed those conversations. Not any more. I’m not going to take him up on his offer. He has way more important things to do than waste time talking to a blogger. I just wish he would do them.


Assistant Attorney General Hope Hogan has filed suit against Halek Operating in an attempt to collect a $1.5 million fine that Halek was supposed to have paid back in August. I have written about this before. Now, instead of the Industrial Commission trying to collect the money from the company that dumped 800,000 gallons of salt water (hmmm, just about the same number of gallons of oil that leaked from a pipeline about 150 miles to the north—wonder if there’s any connection?) down a well south of Dickinson, threatening the area’s ground water, a judge out in Dickinson is going to have to try to collect the money. Well, good luck with that. More on this next week.

2 thoughts on “Another Oil Patch Roundup

  1. Jim-

    I am most concerned about these hypocritical energy spokesman who on one hand say we should encourage making the most $ from energy development and then turn their backs as the state flares away millions of dollars of natural gas every month in ND simply because it requires that the energy companies spend their own money to do this.
    Jim-you’re my favorite watchdog. Keep up the good fight!


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