By  on September 8, 2014

Via Bill Moyers, we discover that all is not well in the newly established petro-state of North Dakota. Once you hand your state over to the extraction agencies, it seems that corporations, while people, are not very good citizens.

It was August, and all across Artz’s farm the barley crop was just reaching maturity. But near the spill, the dead stalks had undeveloped kernels, which, the farmers knew, meant that the barley had been contaminated weeks earlier. Soon after, state testing of the wetlands showed that chloride levels were so high, they exceeded the range of the test strips. The North Dakota Department of Health estimated that between 400 to 600 barrels of wastewater, the equivalent of 16,800 to 25,200 gallons, had seeped into the ground. Wastewater, known as “saltwater” because of its high salinity, is a by-product of oil drilling, which has been a boom-and-bust industry in North Dakota since at least the 1930s. Far saltier than ocean water, this wastewater is toxic enough to sterilize land and poison animals that mistakenly drink it. “You never see a saltwater spill produce again,” Artz said, referring to the land affected by the contamination. “Maybe this will be the first, but I doubt it.”

In the current lopsided American economic system, these deals with the devil are business as usual, and many of the people on whose behalf the state has cut those deals are unaware of the terms of the transaction until the barley fails and the cattle die. But a lot of the people in those states are very aware of what’s going on — Note that the person quoted in the story is identified as a “farmer and an oil shale contractor,” and he seems to know a lot about both jobs — and they sign onto the deals with the devil anyway because there’s money and jobs there.

While the boom has brought wealth, the rapid pace of extraction has sparked fears among the state’s farmers and ranchers about the long-term costs and consequences of land and water contamination, especially because hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, produces far more wastewater than past drilling techniques. (The process, which has exploded in North Dakota since 2008, requires injecting into each well millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals at high pressure in order to break up the shale underneath.) Recent spills, such as July’s massive, million-gallon wastewater spill on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, in western North Dakota, have further stoked fears of future contamination.

The choice between being employed and being poisoned ought not to be quite this stark. It is not the sign of an advanced economy. It is a sign of systematized extortion.

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