Flaring: The Eye of Sauron
“Every single day more than 100 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared away,” Ft. Berthold tribal member and anti-fracking activist Kandi Mossett explains. “That’s enough to heat half a million homes. That’s as much carbon dioxide emitted as 300,000 cars. That’s crazy.”
There is twice as much flaring on the reservation as off the reservation. That is, the lack of infrastructure has been surpassed by the speed of extraction. Natural gas burned in flaring is a byproduct of crude oil. Without enough pipelines to transport the gas, at a state level, a third of what is released each day, worth $1.4 million, goes up in flame. Tribal members say as much as 70 percent of gas from wells on the reservation is flared.
Ironically, this past winter as Debbie Dogskin in nearby Standing Rock reservation froze to death in the polar vortex amid a nationwide propane shortage (in part caused by the oil industry’s restructuring for tar sands oil), the Bakken flared gas rich in propane.
“On a percentage basis, more gas was flared in the state than in any other domestic oil field and at a level equal to that of Russia and twice that in Nigeria,” Bloomberg news reported in April. “In Texas, less than one percent of natural gas is burned off, [and] in North Dakota, flaring is allowed for six months.”
Tribal officials are very concerned about the flaring, but the companies have been reluctant to invest in the infrastructure necessary to capture the gases, so flaring continues. This brings you to what we don’t see.
“These are called VOCs, or volatile organic compounds,” Mossett explains. “They, the companies, have generously put up signs for us, to tell us that the toxins are present in the air. What do we do? Just stop breathing when we go by?”
A Colorado School of Public Health study by Lisa McKenzie, M.D., found airborne hydrocarbons near oil and gas facilities. Those include carcinogenic chemicals and endocrine-disrupting chemicals being released a half-mile away from the oil and gas facilities, at levels that could increase human cancer rates exponentially. Dr. Theo Colburn completed an air chemistry study that similarly found high levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) being released by the fracking industry. Those make you sterile, among other effects. They are not to be trifled with.
Industry has suggested that toxic emissions don’t occur, but studies indicate that between two and l00 tons per year per well pad are discharged into the air. That includes benzene, toluene, napthene, xylene and many more. Those are largely invisible to the eye. But they are not invisible to your body, nor to an infrared camera. Davis began using military infrared cameras to document the escaping gases. Those are pretty extensive, and can be viewed online at Fractivist.org.
“A huge portion of the chemicals used in the fracking industry are protected as trademark secrets,” Davis continues. “This becomes important because an active oil and gas well pad or has an onsite issue, such as a blow out, or spraying chemicals in communities, or elsewhere, where there are animals or humans, the victims would not know the nature of the chemical contamination, and thus puts the patient and the doctor in jeopardy. If there is an issue with a well pad, the emergency response people do not know the chemical they are responding to, and consequently will not have the appropriate equipment for this response. Every operator has a different cocktail which they are using in that fluid, there are trade secrets they are using. A huge concern is that the burden of expense has been shifted to the general public to pay for the emergency response, and so the oil and gas industry does not have to really get involved.”
Stating the obvious, rural and tribal health facilities are not prepared.