A couple of months ago I wrote about an oil well pad at the top of the Van Hook boat ramp on Lake Sakakawea. I’ve learned a few things about it since then. First, the basics.
There’s a little blue-collar resort community at the top of the Van Hook Arm of Lake Sakakawea, a couple hundred trailers and cabins and a bait shop, a small RV park, and a boat ramp. This spring, an oil company named Slawson Exploration moved in beside the resort, and with its huge machinery, began clearing a 25 acre site at the top of the boat ramp, which will be home to what now looks like an 8-well oil pad. The site is just a few hundred yards from the park and the homes in the community.
To kind of “protect” the community and people on the boat ramp from having to stare at, and listen to, their drilling operation, the company built a huge 35-foot high plastic wall, probably a couple hundred yards long. These boys could give Donald Trump a lesson in how to put up a wall in a matter of days.
When the wall comes down in a year or so, there will be an oil well complex as big as any in western North Dakota, right there beside the little town, at the top of one of the busiest boat ramps in North Dakota. A steady stream of monster trucks will haul the waste water from the well, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
To make matters worse, there’s a new well, the first of three, just drilled on a pad a half mile away, on the other side of town. I spent the night with friends there a couple weeks ago. The quiet of this little lakeside community is now gone, replaced by the steady, loud high-pitched hum of a drilling rig, also 24/7.
The rig has since been moved to the new pad at the boat ramp and should be in operation any day now. Drilling at least eight wells, maybe as many as eleven.
Whose fault is this? Well, as a friend of mine said recently, the North Dakota Industrial Commission will permit anything, anywhere. Especially now, with oil in the doldrums. Eleven new wells is nothing to trifle with. Tax dollars and jobs. Never mind the fishermen and recreational boaters and their formerly quiet little community. The Industrial Commission could have found a way to require the company to move away from the Lake. But they didn’t.
Now I’m told the Bureau of Land Management also bears some responsibility. The BLM manages the minerals under Lake Sakakawea owned by the federal government. That’s where the oil is that Slawson is going after, with miles of horizontal pipe under the lake. The BLM could have required Slawson to move the well pad half a mile further away from the lake and the community, but they said, in an environmental assessment, “that would not meet the purpose and need of the project in that it would not permit (Slawson) to fully develop the minerals located on their lease due to the technical challenges of a longer directional drilling length.”
So it looks like the BLM’s main concern, like that of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, was for the oil company, not for the land, the water, the air, the wildlife and the people. Welcome to the Wild, Wild West.
Now there’s more news. There was a legal notice published in the paper last week by the North Dakota Industrial Commission that read like this:
Case No. 25984: (Continued) Application of Slawson Exploration Co., Inc. for an order authorizing the flaring of gas from certain current and future wells completed in the Big Bend-Bakken Pool, McKenzie and Mountrail Counties, ND, for a temporary period of time and to allow the volumes of flared gas to be excluded from the calculations of statewide and county wide flare volumes as an exception to the provisions of Commission Order No. 24665 and such other relief as is appropriate.
The hearing is on August 24. According to Jan Swenson, executive director of Badlands Conservation Alliance, there is no listing of wells in the case file yet, but sometimes companies submit exhibits prior to the hearing date. With these applications it could be a few specific wells, or an extraordinary number.
“The ‘current and future’ language is always a red flag to me,” Jan said. No kidding.
So we don’t really know if Slawson is applying for permission to flare the 11 wells at Van Hook. But anybody want to take bets? I guess if I had a cabin at that little community, I’d probably want to go to the meeting and ask some questions. Because the roar of a gas flare is something to behold. But then, maybe the town won’t need street lights for a while, saving on their electric bill.
Y’know, it was bad enough that the Industrial Commission granted a permit to Slawson to drill these wells on the doorstep of this little community, and at the top of their boat ramp. Granting permission to flare would be beyond the pale.
Oh, one more thing. What’s up with allowing this “flared gas to be excluded from the calculations of statewide and county wide flare volumes as an exception to the provisions of Commission Order No. 24665” business?
Each month, the Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division releases figures on the amount of gas being flared statewide, as a percentage of all the gas being produced. Are they not counting all of it? WTF? Here’s the policy, Order # 24665. Time to find out what these “exclusions from the calculations” are.