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Oil, gas development health expert aims to help landowners, trashes ND's regulation of oil and gas industry

Press Photo by Katherine Lymn Chemist Wilma Subra discusses the health impacts of shale development at the Dakota Resource Council’s annual meeting Saturday at the Heart River Retreat Center.

Chemist Wilma Subra gave tools to area residents concerned about shale development’s health effects at the Dakota Resource Council’s annual meeting Saturday.

Subra detailed what some say are potential health effects of shale development — from depression and headaches to cancer — and described how landowners can protect themselves.

She advised landowners to take groundwater and soil samples before an oil company starts production so that if land becomes contaminated, they have a baseline sample to compare it to for proof.

“It will help tremendously,” she said.

Subra has a history of empowering communities affected by oil and gas development with information, including in the areas affected by the BP oil spill.

“We’ve heard bits and pieces and we’ve seen a lot of the impacts that have occurred as a result of the shale development in your area,” Subra told the crowd at the Heart River Retreat Center.

She repeatedly trashed the state’s weak regulation and enforcement in the industry.

“(Development) has grown in leaps and bounds,” she said, “… the state regulatory program has not kept up.”

Subra also shared a form she has created for communities with oil development to report “odor events” so they have a record of it later.

The log includes the location of the smell, a description of it, the wind speed and direction, and possible sources of the smell.

Some communities Subra has worked with even have websites to record the events.

“I think what she did was she put facts and science to what people have been experiencing,” DRC Executive Director Don Morrison said after Subra’s presentation.

He said he’s heard anecdotally of the health impacts Subra attributed to oil and gas development.

During a question-and-answer session, members of the audience asked questions about issues in their local communities, including a proposed rail facility near Beach.

Subra said air emissions could increase tremendously, and that any leaks and spills would contaminate water and soil.