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EPA Joins The Babysitters Club

The Bakken oil fields have just gotten a new set of babysitters, and they’re not quite the craft-wielding club of preteens you might think. After a slew of environmental crimes, the federal government has decided it’s best to go right for the drill sergeants of nannies, and have the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set up a criminal investigation division in North Dakota.

Within the last 10 years, North Dakota’s oil production has grown to colossal levels. It produces over 1 million barrels of oil a day, from more than 11,000 wells, pipelines, and drilling rigs. Thousands of people have moved to the area in hopes of steady employment and better wages. Unfortunately, with new unsupervised production and thousands of migrant workers, crimes against the environment have also increased.

What’s a mom to do when her child acts up? The answer is to move the authority figure within earshot of the trouble. Up until recently, the EPA’s criminal investigation division only had two locations: one in Denver, Colorado and one in Helena, Montana. This made it quite easy for rule-breaking oil executives to sneak under the radar. U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon said, “Having the closest environmental detective 10 hours away, it’s not a sustainable strategy in enforcing environmental laws against the worst of the worst offenders in the biggest oil play in the lower 48 states.”

Now, the EPA is ready to put any violators in time-out, or rather, give them a nice, hefty fine. So far, investigations have led to a $50,000 fine ordered against Hurley Enterprises, Inc. and Mon-Dakota Water for illegally dumping sewage waste in an oil patch. It also fined Halek Operating ND $1.5 million for dumping 800,000 gallons of saltwater oil brine into a former oil well and trying to hide the act (although the money has yet to be paid). Plus, about 20 environmental crimes in North Dakota are currently being investigated. EPA Special Agent Jeffry Martinez said of the violations in question, “The environmental crimes involve lying, cheating and stealing like any other crime. We try to pick the worst of the worst.”

The criminal investigation division is made up of 200 federal agents that work to protect drinking water, air, and surface water, among other things. The North Dakota division currently has an open-ended contract to rent space for agents working in the state as they start permanently staffing. Once everything is officially up and running, I think it’s safe to say oil executives will behave a bit more kindly towards the environment!

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