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Oil Patch companies try to create a culture of clean

Press Photo by Katherine Lymn A truck drives down rural 112th Avenue Southwest, a couple miles northwest of Dickinson. Trash on roads like this has become a issue.

As oil production increases, so too does the traffic. And often, whether intentional or not, that leads to litter.

From a lot of angles, however, energy companies are trying to tackle the issue with trash pickups — which also serve as a way to bond with local communities — and by setting a no-litter tone with employees.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council recently won a national award for the anti-litter program it does with energy companies.

“Of all the challenges we were facing in western North Dakota because of rapid development and growing population, trash was something we could pretty easily take care of,” program coordinator Alexis Brinkman said. “It didn’t require legislation or appropriation ... we could just get out there.”

From “trucker bombs,” urine-filled bottles tossed out the window by rushed truckers, to debris that blows out of dumpsters on North Dakota’s notorious windy days, the litter comes in many forms, and may be intentional or not.

Brinkman said the NDPC’s program is somewhat modeled after safety programs companies have — with immediate hands-on efforts but also long-term efforts to create an anti-litter culture, and “make it part of everyday business.”

A no-litter culture

Beyond the trash pickups a few times a year, companies also try to create a culture of clean.

Brinkman said she’s heard of companies putting reminders about trash in their daily safety meetings, or discussing litter in the training videos for contractors.

The Petroleum Council’s “Pick Up the Patch!” initiative started in April 2012, when it started noticing increased litter across the Oil Patch, and this year organizers added a list of local contacts with energy companies.

That way, smaller companies know who to contact if they want to pitch in.

“Not every company operating is a Marathon or a Hess with significant manpower … (they) couldn’t do a lot by themselves in a single day,” she said.

Whiting Petroleum has no-littering signs on all the roads it builds.

“On the roads we built, we don’t care who travels them, we want to think green, keep North Dakota clean,” said Blaine Hoffman, a Whiting superintendent.

Whiting also does trash pickups along Highway 85 and on Stark and Billings county roads.

Quality Mat crew heads enforce this ideology with their workers, said Mike Carbaugh, North Dakota operations manager for the Texas-based matting company.

Crews keep extra space in their pickup bed toolboxes to put trash in so it doesn’t blow away when unsecured, Carbaugh said.

“We keep the roads going into our shop there free of litter also very particular about our employees leaving anything in the back of their pickups that’ll blow out,” Carbaugh said.

He said the company does trash pickups on Highway 200 east of Killdeer.

Brinkman said Whiting’s Jack Ekstrom nominated the NDPC for the award it won, from the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.

“Stewardship is one of the great untold success stories in the oil and gas industry, and North Dakota is working to make a positive environmental impact through its Pick Up the Patch! Program,” IOGCC Chairman and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said of the award, according to a press release.