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Officials and ranchers discuss dangers during event in Medora

Officials and ranchers have concerns that increased oil activity in western North Dakota could impact livestock close to oil field sites, as pictured above Wednesday west of Medora. Fencing off oil equipment could protect cattle from illness or death.

MEDORA -- While there have been no reports of livestock dying from oil-related incidents in western North Dakota, officials reminded ranchers to keep a fence between oil and agriculture lands Wednesday at the Medora Community Center.

"The reason it is such a big issue is we're sharing the same resources," said Michelle Mostrom, North Dakota State University veterinary toxicologist. "They can impact each other, but for livestock owners it is how they are going to impact your cattle, your sheep, the land and particularly water that are going to be critical for you."

Mostrom was one of the speakers at the 38th Medora Beef Day. Her focus was the effects of the growth of oil production in western North Dakota on livestock.

"Accidents are going to happen," she said. "That is the nature of the business."

Oil wells and other equipment may be put on land with livestock, Mostrom said. Areas not fenced off, pipeline breaks and spills leaking into water and feed sources could become problems, she said.

Experiments showed that cattle will consume water contaminated with crude oil and diesel, Mostrom said. Cattle will also lick hydrocarbons off pipes and sucker rods until they get sick or die.

"Cattle are exploratory," she said. "The calves are going to get in there if fences aren't put up."

Kurt Froelich, Stark County NDSU Extension Agent, said he had not heard of any oil-related cases, though several livestock producers have contacted him with questions.

"You are going to see more and more pipelines," he said. "You're going to see more and more concern from growers."

Jonathan Odermann said there has been a tremendous amount of drilling activity around his family's farm north of Medora in the last two to three years.

"Seeing this presentation today, it's starting to at least put the ideas in our minds so we know what to be looking for so we can be a little more proactive with dealing with any diseases in our livestock going forward if there is connection, if being the key word," he said.

Odermann was one of about 20 people at the event.

"It gives us pause to pursue these cases that we might write off and say, 'Hey, let's find out more about this before we just dismiss it,'" he said.

Putting up fences can prevent accidents, Mostrom said, and ranchers should keep close and accurate livestock records or risk not being compensated for their loss.

"If they're out working in your pasture, know about it, and keep a notebook and keep videos," she said. "You're not only running your business. You are also running the oil field business because you have to keep track of everything."

Froelich said educating farmers and ranchers will be important.

"If we can get the education out about the fences or tell growers what to watch for, then maybe they can get ahead of any challenges that they may have," he said.