Four Things You Need To Know About The Impacts Of North Dakota’s Oil Boom

CREDIT: Gregory Bull/AP Images


CREDIT: Gregory Bull/AP Images

The Department of the Interior announced late last week that Secretary Sally Jewell will visit North Dakota this week to “highlight steps the Obama Administration is taking to create jobs, decrease our dependence on foreign oil, cut carbon pollution, and grow our economy as part of an all-of-the-above American-made energy strategy.”

New drilling technologies have recently unlocked significant oil resources in North Dakota and Jewell’s visit to this part of the country provides an important opportunity to take a closer look at the state’s oil boom.

Here are four things you need to know about the phenomenon that has given two tiny cities in western North Dakota the top slots as “America’s Biggest Boomtowns.”

1. North Dakota is evidence of the extraordinary amount of drilling occurring in the U.S. The state—the nation’s second-largest oil producer after Texas—continues to shatter monthly drilling records (seen in the chart below), most recently producing 800,000 barrels per day for the first time in history in May. And officials predict those numbers could very well increase throughout the summer.

ND crude oil production

This has contributed to the fact that U.S. oil production is at its highest level since 1992. While much new drilling is taking place on private lands because of the location of shale formations , it’s also important to note that annual oil production on federal lands under President Obama is higher than the last year of President George W. Bush’s presidency. Nevertheless, many politicians continue to blame the Obama administration for “locking up” resources and stymieing domestic energy production.

2. The drilling boom is putting our treasured places at risk. The rush to drill is already having significant impacts on the area’s natural resources, seen most acutely in the example of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. As this video from the Center for American Progress shows, the park named after our greatest conservation president is experiencing some of the negative effects of North Dakota’s oil and gas boom, including increased noise, traffic and pollution.

3. To keep up with the pace of drilling, companies are wasting a shocking amount of natural gas. Along with oil drilling comes flaring (intentional burn-off) of the natural gas that bubbles up with the oil. As Climate Progress reported last week, the emissions associated with flaring in North Dakota are equivalent to those from one million cars every year, which has major climate implications. Companies flare off natural gas because the current market value of oil is more than 30 times higher than that of natural gas. While flaring causes fewer greenhouse gas emissions than directly venting methane into the air, more than 60 types of pollutants have been identified downwind of flaring operations. As one energy expert put it:

North Dakota is not as bad as Kazakhstan, but this is not what you would expect a civilized, efficient society to do: to flare off a perfectly good product just because it’s expensive to bring to market.

4. The rush to drill is affecting the residents of cities and towns that are in the midst of the boom. From skyrocketing housing prices to a toll on health care systems to municipalities going bankrupt, the drilling boom has major socioeconomic implications that must be addressed.

According to the investor group Ceres, the Energy Information Administration has projected that oil produced from the Bakken shale will continue to increase—about 40 percent between 2012 and 2020.

But the shape of the boom, and its costs, are yet to be determined. Where drilling is allowed, how communities are protected, and what impacts it will have on air quality, the climate, and water supplies are all questions that Secretary Jewell will have to grapple with when she visits later this week.