Environmental Impacts of North Dakota’s Oil Production – Jonathan Palmer


North Dakota Oil Rig

Oil production has always had an impact on the environment. From the 1960’s, when Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River was a fire hazard because of oil pollution (Steinberg, 241), to today, when North Dakota spilled around 4,000 barrels of toxic product. This report stated that 4,260 barrels and only were able to recover 225. (UPI) North Dakota is a hot spot for oil drilling and has proven to have a serious environmental impact similar to those addressed by Steinberg and Fiege.

Cuyahoga River 1969

It was reported that, in 2011 alone, there were 1000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids. Some of which contained heavy metals and carcinogenic chemicals that had a profound effect on the ecosystem. For example, these chemicals wiped out aquatic life in nearby streams and wetlands. (ScientificAmerican) Steinberg begins chapter 15 by talking about an oil refinery in Cleveland that polluted the Cuyahoga River so much that it became a fire hazard. The refinery was located on the river and would pollute it with oil that was spilt or misused causing the river to become flammable. It caught fire in 1969, which proved to everyone that the process of oil production was an environmental problem that needed to be fixed. (Steinberg, 249)

North Dakota Oil Production 2005-2015

North Dakota still encounters problems when producing oil. A 2015 report by the Department of Mineral Resource stated that North Dakota produced an average of 1.21 million barrels of oil a day in the month of June. (USAToday) In order to drill for oil they use salt-water brine that becomes infused with chemicals such as carcinogenic hydrocarbons. This brine causes harmful damage to the environment when it is miss handled. One example from a 2012 article talks about a pipe break, which resulted in a spill of about a million gallons of brine. The toxic liquid flowed downhill and into a creek where it traveled 15 miles downstream wiping out the fish, turtles and other species. Also, the sodium from the brine hinders the plants ability to absorb water. (ScientificAmerican)

Lousiana Oil Spill

Fiege addresses the effects of oil production in chapter 9. He gives the example of a spill off the coast of Louisiana when a deep water well blew out. This took massive toll on the environment in that area. The marine life, wetlands, bays, and fishing communities were all negatively affected. (Fiege, 399) Digging for oil requires the use of toxic substances, which can easily be mishandled and released into our environment. Major spills don’t happen often, but minor ones do and still have an environmental impact.

North Dakota Oil Field

The North Dakota Department of Health provides the records of all the incidents that happen in the state dealing with any spills of hazardous material. They provide the date, location, substance that was spilled, how much was spilled and if it was contained or not. After examining the data you can see that spills are very common and happen multiple times per week. Although most of the spills are very minor, they happen extremely regularly. (NDHealth) This data shows that the oil production process is not perfect and affects our environment everyday. These accidents happen everyday in only one of the hundreds of sites where oil is harvested.



Fiege, Mark. The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States. Seattle: University of Washington, 2013. Print.

Steinberg, Theodore. Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History. New York Oxford UP, 2013. Print.

North Dakota Department of Health – www.ndhealth.gov

Byproduct of Fracking Spilled in North Dakota http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Industry/2015/08/07/Byproduct-of-fracking-spilled-in-North-Dakota/9351438940220/

North Dakota’s Oil Boom Brings Environmental Damage with Economic Prosperity http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/north-dakotas-oil-environmental-damage-economic-prosperity/

Oil Woes? Not in North Dakota http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/2015/08/14/loveless-north-dakota-oil/31733073/



4 thoughts on “Environmental Impacts of North Dakota’s Oil Production – Jonathan Palmer

  1. mlongbi101anselm

    “Mistake by the Lake” sure is an understatement. Never really thought much of oil spills up North because the media is always focused on the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico and foreign affairs. Im sure the runoff effects the farming methods down river.

  2. Nick Rolli Post author

    1,000 accidental releases of oil in the year 2011 alone! As you stated in your blog, oil spills are a serious matter and harmful to the environment. People need to be more careful I guess!

  3. earthhist Post author

    The use of pictures in this was great! I especially liked the 2nd and 4th ones. They really helped show the severity of the oil spills you wrote about!

    1. Matt Sargent

      You also did a great job relating this current issue, to issues we’ve talked about in class and in Down to Earth- Matt Sargent


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