Letters: Up in black smoke
As tribal residents of rural Mandaree on Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, we support the proposed BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Methane Flaring and Venting reduction language. We have witnessed the visible and costly unquantified damages of weak environmental laws and even weaker enforcement of regulatory rules for the last 8 years. Just recently, we viewed an infrared camera used at one well site in Mandaree which showed a continuous plume of invisible methane gas flowing directly into the air we breathe. We know from science based research from other states that have a history with hydraulic fracturing in their communities the four common chemical air pollutants from drilling and fracking, they are benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene called (BETX). These chemicals released in the flaring and venting are endocrine disruptors. Some of the health conditions linked to even low levels of BETX are sperm abnormalities, reduced fetal growth, cardiovascular disease, respiratory dysfunction, and asthma. With the adoption and implementation of the proposed federal BLM revision requirements of Flaring and Venting methane, the human health of populations living close and distant to the invisible gas plumes will be protected.
Everyday black smoke containing particulate matter has been visible at well sites around us. The venting of gaseous and invisible harmful air pollutants is only detected by infrared camera. But the biggest hidden aspect of the current rule is the ongoing federal taking of a natural gas resource wealth from mineral owners as BLM consistently grants the oil operator exemption from royalty paid flaring and royalty paid venting. The granting of an exemption at no cost to industry with federal approval is subsidization and that practice must end. Data obtained from BLM’s own records revealed astronomical volumes of royalty-free flaring of 107,573,228.8 mcfs of natural gas just in North Dakota alone on federal trust lands: allotted, tribal, and public, with an estimated burning of $524 million worth of natural resources. Within that same period of January 2007 and April 2013 the BLM permitted the royalty free-venting of 1,443,907.5 mcfs of methane directly into our air. The proposed BLM establishes a maximum limit of allowable flaring over a three year period, however; the repetitive exemption remains and if an operator should claim the new limits of allowable flaring would cause an operator to stop production, the intent of the new revision to reduce and eliminate the royalty fee flaring and venting is unchanged.
Most tribal members and the public are not aware that BLC could have been requiring the oil industry to pay royalties for the natural gas that is extracted from tribal lands. Instead, BLM’s practice has been to allow the oil operators to avoid paid royalties to individual tribal mineral owners and the tribal government, and burnup the natural gas on tribal and public lands through flaring. In other words, the federal government, through BLM, has been subsidizing the oil industry through royalty –free natural gas flaring. The proposed requirements to reduce free royalty flaring and venting are long overdue for the mineral owners who signed leases and for all who live on and nearby federal and Indian lands and are impacted by the allowance of continuous exemptions to permit unregulated flaring and venting.
The revision of BLM current flaring rule is the precursor to an increase of gathering pipelines and ramping up of compressor stations dotting our lands. There have already been for Crestwood Arrow oil and gas pipeline failures in rural Mandaree in a recent 12-month period, including a one-million gallon toxic spill into the water we drink from the Missouri River’s Bear Den Bay. Any future proposed “gas capture” infrastructure to transport natural gas and other oil and gas products in Indian Country, especially on Fort Berthold, must far exceed the industry’s current “best practices” level in the transportation of hazardous oil and gas liquids.
BLM will hold a public forum on the proposed BLM Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation revision also known as the methane revision rule on March 3, 2016, Astoria Hotel Event Center, 363 15 St W, Dickinson ND 1 pm (mst). Mail your written comments before or on April 8 to: U.S. Department of the Interior, Director (630) Bureau of Land Management, Mail Stop 2134 LM, 1849 C St NW, Washington DC 20240 or submit online at Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov
Joletta Bird Bear, Lisa Deville, Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rivers