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Oil spill expert to headline DRC meeting Saturday

Dakota Resource Council 36th annual meeting

What: Speech by Wilma Subra, chemist and president of Subra Company

When: 3:40 p.m.

Where: Heart River Retreat, 2475 West Broadway, Dickinson

Online: www.drcinfo.org

Wilma Subra uses information to empower communities negatively affected by oil and gas development.

Some people don't like that.

Subra's office has been broken into many times -- she sees it as people trying to quiet her -- and her building was even shot at once.

But this hasn't deterred her, and Subra will bring her chemistry and advocacy to western North Dakotan communities Saturday as the keynote speaker at the Dakota Resource Council's annual meeting, where she hopes to educate landowners, farmers, small business owners and others affected by the oil boom.

Subra will offer some "technical assistance" to those with questions about the health impacts of the oil and gas development in the western part of the state.

She opened her own company in 1981 to help communities understand "what's going on" when development hits them. She has since done ongoing work monitoring health effects of the BP oil spill, among other events.

Last month's 20,600-barrel Tioga pipeline spill happened after Subra was booked as the speaker, but only made her speech more relevant.

She said the state needs better regulation -- and more importantly, enforcement -- of pipelines.

"Some states have a fair amount of regulation, others don't," she said, "but even if you have a fair amount of regulation, if you don't enforce it, it doesn't exist."

DRC executive director Don Morrison said the Tioga spill is just the most recent example of some of the problems the council tries to combat -- "the most prominent example of why we need to work together," he said.

"Our current state government looks at their job as protecting the oil industry rather than involving the public in doing things better," Morrison said.

Morrison said he hopes attendees of Subra's speech walk away knowing there are solutions to the problems western North Dakota faces with oil development.

"There are solutions, there is hope that we can do much better," he said.

DRC oil and gas task force chairwoman Theodora Birdbear said she thought Subra would be a good speaker after seeing a YouTube video of the chemist speaking.

"I was just struck by how much she uses her technical information, her knowledge as a chemist, to help small communities that are dealing with significant impacts from industrial development," Birdbear said.

Birdbear said with the "big voice" the oil and gas industry has in the state, she hopes that Subra's speech inspires individuals to learn about the issues themselves.

"She gives encouragement, she gives technical advice, she gives resources -- the knowledge the average person needs to know to start to work together to address the (problems)," Birdbear said.

Despite repeated break-ins and the drive-by shooting, Subra perseveres.

"When the harassment occurs, I can usually associate it back to two or three issues I'm working on," she said.

"They just harass me to try and get me to back off but then if I back off the community is the one that loses because they don't have the information."

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