Despite Wild Claims From Environmentalists, Oil Footprint In Little Missouri State Park Will Be Minimal
This morning I was on the Jarrod Thomas show on KNOX AM1310 and he asked me for a reaction to this op/ed from a gentleman named Larry Heilman who is upset about the state’s decision to open up 30,000 acres in the area of the Little Missouri State Park to oil production.
According to Heilman, the state has given an oil company permission to drill as many as 80 wells in this 30,000 acres with as many as 10 of those wells happening in the Little Missouri State Park. This means, to quote Heilman, that North Dakota is “losing its largest and most spectacular state park.”
“This is one of the most spectacular natural areas in the state,” writes Heilman. “Why must it be degraded and possibly destroyed for the profit of a giant international oil company?”
But is his premise correct? Let’s put it into perspective.
According to the North Dakota Petroleum Council, the average Bakken horizontal drilling site takes up about 4 – 6 acres of surface area. A multiple-well drilling pad (one that serves several wells from one surface location) takes up an average of 5 – 7 acres. That includes everything from machinery to truck parking to trailers for housing workers. What’s more, after a well is drilled and producing oil the footprint can be downsized by about 25%.
If we assume, for the sake of argument, that all 80 of these wells to be drilled in the Little Missouri area will take up a full seven acres, the top end of the estimate from the Petroleum Council, we’re talking about a total of 560 acres out of 30,000 devoted to drilling.
That’s exactly 1.8% of the total land.
Heilman claims that this oil production would “seriously degrade access to the park and use of it for recreation and camping,” but that just doesn’t seem to be true. The wells would only exist on a tiny fraction of the total acreage.
This sort of hysteria about western oil production, promoted by environmental activists and certain sympathetic partners in the North Dakota media, does more harm than good. There is a perfectly valid debate to be had over environmental issues in the west, but these sort of unfair aspersions do little to advance that debate.
I love the Little Missouri area. My family and I have traveled there often. I’m very interested in seeing it protected. But there is a way to balance those concerns with prudent access for energy producers. We can both keep the park pristine and allow for responsible oil development in and near it.