Maybe Oil Development Isn’t the Apocalypse Some Make It Out to Be

A 32-foot sound barrier wall separates an 11-well oil pad from a Lake Sakakawea boat ramp at the Van Hook Resort near New Town, pictured Tuesday evening. On weekends, it is one of the busiest boat ramps on the lake. (Amy Dalrymple, Bismarck Tribune)

North Dakotans love their lakes. During the summer months, if you ask a Nodaker what their weekend plans are, more often than not you’ll probably hear them say something about going to “the lake.”

Which lake depends on things like geography and personal preference, but suffice it to say that people in our state like spending time on and near the water. So when Slawson Exploration put in two oil sites near Van Hook, the single busiest recreation area on North Dakota’s largest lake, a lot of people were concerned.

While those concerns weren’t unreasonable – nobody wants their favorite recreation area ruined by heavy industry – it turns out the Van Hook development hasn’t been the apocalypse the political zealots who use violence, vandalism, and hyperbole against the oil industry would have us believe.

Amy Dalrymple has an interesting look at the Van Hook development in the Bismarck Tribune, and while Slawson hasn’t entirely pleased everyone, the take away I got from the article is that things have gone pretty well:

VAN HOOK TOWNSHIP — Residents of a popular recreation and camping area on Lake Sakakawea are sandwiched this summer between two oil sites, with an active drilling rig on one end and a large sound barrier wall protecting a new site on the other.

But the manager of Van Hook Park near New Town in northwest North Dakota said oil development around the park is “better than expected” as developer Slawson Exploration works to minimize impacts.

“Obviously, this is not an ideal situation, but we’re really pleasantly surprised with the way that Slawson has been handling this,” said manager Dawn Ritts.

Also, this:

Slawson recently installed a 32-foot sound barrier wall around this site, the first time such a wall has been used in North Dakota, to muffle the noise from drilling and completion work, Sundberg said. The wall will be removed after the wells are completed.

Ritts joked she wants to have a naming contest for the wall, suggesting “the Great Wall of Van Hook” as one possibility.

“At first when it went up, I thought ‘Oh my lord, it’s hideous,’” she said.

But now that it’s installed, Ritts said she likes that it shields the work site and will cut down on noise for people who live on that side of the park.

Slawson has been using an electric rig to cut down on noise. Gas flaring, oil tanks, and other equipment are actually located about a mile away from the site itself. Flaring will be minimal because Slawson will have gas pipelines installed before the wells come online. The company has also donated $50,000 to hook the Van Hook community up to rural water. Currently the folks there have water delivered due to the poor quality of well water.

Thanks to these steps, Slawson and the Van Hook campers are getting along:

Kay Nordloef, of Stanley, is one of many who camp every summer at Van Hook Park, which has about 150 campsites in addition to the leased lots.

“It’s 30 minutes from home but it’s like a world apart. It’s such a relaxing atmosphere,” Nordloef said.

This year, Nordloef’s RV is parked near the drilling rig and the road workers use to access the site. She said it hasn’t bothered her and she continues to sleep with her window open.

Her brother-in-law, Brad Reese, who camps a few sites away, also had no complaints.

“I thought it was going to be a lot worse,” Reese said.

Typically, when it comes to oil development, all we ever hear about are the bad things. The spills. The protests. But the truth is, most oil development happens successfully with few or any incidents and in a manner that’s not all that disruptive to the society around it.

Read the whole article.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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