STANLEY, N.D. -- While the Bakken oil formation has made North Dakota the second largest oil-producing state in the country, some residents are concerned about the longterm effects of the oil boom.
Many members of the Northwest Landowners Association, a group representing farmers, ranchers and other property owners, raised concerns Saturday about the rapidly expanded oil business and the effect it is having on soil quality and landowner rights.
At the meeting, landowners from McKenzie, Williams and Mountrail counties raised personal concerns about how oil production and transport has affected their land, especially with the growing number of pipelines.
Vawnita Best, the organizer of the Greater McKenzie County Stewardship Group, said many landowners are worried about how the ongoing oil boom will affect their land in the years to come.
"We're fatigued, exhausted. We're done," Best said.
Also in attendance at the meeting were members of the North Dakota Farmers Union, the McKenzie County Soil Conservation District, the Mountrail County government and local state legislators.North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley was expected to speak at the event, but had to cancel for personal reasons.
While the meeting was meant to approve the organization's regular meeting minutes and to vote on the group's leadership, the vast majority of the meeting was spent presenting examples of how oil drilling has impacted landowners.
Discussion revolved around right of ways for pipelines, oil and saltwater disposal wells being located within 500 feet of homes, the threat of eminent domain being used by oil companies, and the need for proper reclamation practices at wellheads and pipelines.
At points, there were questions raised about the way that the Department of Mineral Resources and the North Dakota Industrial Commission -- the latter made up of the Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and the Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring -- has regulated the oil industry in the state.
The meeting comes only a week after The New York Times published a nine-month investigation highlighting the number of oil and saltwater spills in the state, the Industrial Commission's approval of the vast majority of requests that come in front of them, and the reduced fines that the commission assesses to oil companies who violate regulations.
Troy Coons, the chairman of the landowners association, said that one of the questions he hears regularly is, "How do we get them to follow through on the regulations that are already in place?"
That sentiment seemed to be widespread among the landowners in attendance.
Best said she was glad to see Dalrymple's budget proposal suggested increasing the number of employees regulating the oil and gas industry, but that more needs to be done.
"It's a first step," Best said.
There has been a push by state officials to circumvent local control of all aspects of the oil- and gas-producing process, Mountrail County zoning director Don Longmuir said. He added that people need to be aware of the legislation being proposed in Bismarck during the coming session and that what happens now in North Dakota will affect the state for decades to come.
"What we do in this county now affects my grandchildren's grandchildren," Longmuir said.
Kayla Pulvermacher, the director of member advocacy for North Dakota Farmers Union, said farmers and ranchers need to make their voices heard in Bismarck. She encouraged those in attendance to tell their local legislators their concerns.
"Lynn Helms can come up and refute everything we are saying, but if (the legislators') constituents speak up, they have to listen," said Pulvermacher, referring to the Mineral Resources Department director.