Oil is making my people sick
This past week, oil and gas industry leaders, government officials, and other leaders in the energy world from North Dakota to Saudi Arabia gathered virtually for the annual CERAWeek conference. For years, industry representatives have gathered to tout their achievements and voluntary ‘green initiatives’ and maintain their credibility. Those of us who live near oil and gas development know better–promises are constantly broken.
While these companies touted their voluntary goal announcements, I joined others living near extraction across the country to call on these companies to put their money where their mouth is and support strong nationwide air pollution rules. I am an enrolled citizen of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation. My family and I are lifelong residents of Mandaree, ND, on the Ft. Berthold Reservation. I am a co-creator of the grassroots group, Ft. Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights.
The impacts on the MHA people are real and damaging. From semi-trucks crashes to brine spills to invisible spills such as methane, unchecked development is killing our people. My grandmaother taught me that when we destroy mother earth, we destroy ourselves. Mother earth is sick, and when she’s sick, we’re sick. I live less than a mile away from well pads that flare, and one mile from a facility that produces, stores, and transports natural gas, and in August of 2017, my husband and I became ill with respiratory infections. When our infections did not respond to the medications prescribed to us by doctors at our local branch of the Indian Health Service, we went to the McKenzie County Clinic, where a physician told us that we had the same symptoms as oil field workers they had treated at the clinic. I was prescribed more medication, and my husband received a steroid injection, but it took another eight weeks for us to fully recover. We were miserable during those eight weeks, and we live in constant fear of the next devastating illness caused by exposure to heavily polluted air. Our people are sick with nosebleeds, asthma, and more.
These corporations say they’re going to do better, but corporate promises don’t mean anything. They’ve proven that for decades. They’ve promised time and time again that they would do it right, and no damage would be done. The bottom line is this: We know that methane pollution from the oil and gas industry is fueling the climate crisis and making our people sick, and we have the tools and technology to do something about it. Time and time these corporations have proven that they will fail to meet their own voluntary goals and only do the bare minimum of what is required of them. Despite promises to do it right, recently we counted the 23rd spill in 6 months. That was kept hidden from the people here. North Dakota has gas capture “goals” that companies have agreed to, with rare consequences for failing to meet them. In November the voluntary statewide goal was 9% of all gas would be vented, flared, or leaked. The “goal” is that one in ten MCF of gas is wasted and put in our lungs. They’ve had decades to innovate and comply with state goals but have consistently failed, at the expense of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara peoples. Even if these corporations met their voluntary state goal, that would be 8 billion cubic feet of non-renewable gas vented, leaked, or flared per month.
We need strong federal rules now. Even if the tribe did everything right and had the strictest rules, 2,523 wells are producing within reservation boundaries, and we are surrounded by thousands more. Development and air surrounding the reservations will continue to damage our health and climate. Federal government has trust responsibility–and they’re failing. The only corporate promise we want to hear is every company at CERA Week supporting the Biden administration’s strong nationwide methane rules, now. If the industry is serious about confronting climate change and protecting our people, they will work with the administration to cut methane pollution by 65 percent below 2012 levels by 2025 — an achievable target that can be met at low-cost by enforcing the full powers of the Clean Air Act.