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It's not the first oil boom to hit North Dakota, but it's undoubtedly the biggest. North Dakota has quickly become one of the largest oil-producing states in the country. The Bakken has brought thousands of people to North Dakota and billions of dollars in state revenue. But it's also brought its share of headaches for those living in oil country. Home construction can't keep up with the rapid growth in population. Crimes, accidents and arrests are at an all-time high in western North Dakota. Small cities that were once off the grid are making national headlines as they face challenges they've never had to deal with before.
Clip: Flares Light Up Oil Country
Michelle San Miguel
You don't have to describe yourself as an environmentalist to be concerned about what goes on two miles below the ground during fracking. People in numerous states argue hydraulic fracturing poses threats to the environment, including our drinking water. Some people in oil country worry that could happen in North Dakota. And they say they're not anti-oil.
"Nobody can be really anti-oil if you're going to drive a vehicle and heat your house. That isn't what it's about. It's about doing it right because if we mess up our aquifers, it's our water. We got nothing left to give to the next generations," said Donny Nelson with the Dakota Resource Council.
Nelson says he'd like the state to test some aquifers so there's a baseline sample of what's in the water before wells are fracked nearby. The North Dakota Department of Health says it's been doing that for almost twenty years and has found no cases of fracking contaminating drinking water in the state.
"When you look at the formations and you look how deep they are and the separation between the drinking water supplies or the aquifers and where they're injecting, we're just not seeing really any great potential for groundwater contamination to occur," said David Glatt, chief of the environmental health section of the North Dakota Department of Health.
Helms agrees, arguing there are hundreds of layers of rocks between the Bakken and our drinking water. Geologists also point out that our aquifers sit about 8,000 feet above the Bakken.
"There's absolutely no physical way that frack water could move through those layers of salt and all those other layers of rock in order to get from the Bakken into our drinking water. Geologists also point out that our aquifers sit about 8,000 feet above the Bakken," Helms said.
In oil country, the dark prairie is illuminated by natural gas going up in flames. About a third of the natural gas produced at well sites is being burned as the gas industry tries to keep up with growing oil production.
The gas industry is investing about 3.5 billion dollars to capture the flared gas. Helms says the goal is to capture between 90 to 95 percent of it by the middle of next year. Still, the amount of natural gas that's being wasted now could be used to heat about a million homes every day, not to mention those flares are adding to our greenhouse gas emissions.
Nelson said, "The oil is worth so much more than the gas that they'll waste it to get the oil."
"It doesn't really create a whole lot of air quality issues for us other than it's a wasted resource that we'd like to see put to beneficial use," Glatt said.
The land, of course, doesn't look like it used to. And there are those who say it never will. "I don't think it'll ever be like it was. There are some people think that's a good thing. There are some people that don't. And I'm one of them," Nelson said.
Helms said, "There will be a day, five, six generations from now when the oil wells are gone and the landscape where a well was will be basically indistinguishable from all the acres around it.
Despite owning mineral rights, Nelson says he'd like to see the state slow down oil production. "If you talk to anybody around here, stop them on the street. If they're people that have lived here most of their life and a lot of them are benefiting from it, the economy's booming I'd say 90-something percent of them say why doesn't the state slow it down until we can catch up. The oil's still gonna be here," Nelson said.
Effective April 1, nearly two dozen rules go into effect that give more oversight over the oil industry. Among the new changes, oil companies will be required to post online the chemicals used in fracking. The changes are expected to cost the oil industry between 200 to 400 million dollars every year.