Bakken Brine: Responses to Brine Spills on Tribal and Non-Tribal Land in the Bakken Region of North Dakota

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Amity Doolittle
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The Bakken region of North Dakota has experienced a dramatic increase in oil and gas production in the past decade. Many parts of the state have already experienced the negative consequences of rapid, irresponsible development, with a reported 18 million gallons of oil and wastewater spilled between 2006 and 20141. North Dakota's boom has boosted the state's economy, but environmental regulators have not kept pace with the speed of development. The extractive process damages the environment in many ways, sometimes through high salinity brine spills. Through two case studies, I look at brine spills on non-tribal agricultural land and a Native American Reservation to understand the state’s political and cultural responses to environmental contamination. In North Dakota, oil companies develop irresponsibly and often leave spills untouched. The regulatory agencies work “collaboratively” with oil companies, and will not hold companies accountable for violations of environmental laws. Because of this regulatory negligence, my case studies reveal that the citizens who are most negatively affected by environmental contamination are forced to also take on the burden of monitoring and enforcing environmental regulations. This therefore adds another layer of impact, where landowners not only suffer the economic, social, and health-related costs of spill contamination, but also must assume the regulatory labor that has been neglected by government agencies.