North Dakota’s Oil, Coal Counties Get Top Ratings For Air Quality


North Dakota is a fossil fuel state, with strong oil and coal industries. And from the way environmentalists talk about the state’s energy industry, you’d also think that they were destroying our environment.

Not so, it seems. Despite the oil activity and natural gas flaring in oil country, and despite the seven large electrical plants in central North Dakota and addition to the EPA naming North Dakota as one of only seven states meeting all ambient air quality standards eight counties just got an “A” rating from the American Lung Association:

From the Bismarck Tribune:

The American Lung Association gave “A” grades to eight counties in North Dakota for lack of smog and to three counties for lack of dust.

The association released the information in its annual State of the Air report for 2013.

The eight counties, chosen for population or proximity to a national park and grasslands, are Billings, Burke, Burleigh, Cass, Dunn, McKenzie, Mercer and Oliver.

Billings, Burke, Dunn and McKenzie counties are all in the state’s oil patch and home to a lot of natural gas flaring. Mercer and Oliver counties are home to five massive coal power plants.

The only county in the state to get a B was Cass County, which got the ranking for air particulates. That county, of course, is on the opposite side of the state from the oil and coal areas.

And perhaps more North Dakota counties would get “A” ratings from this group as well. These were just the counties selected for grading due to their populations and proximity to national parks/grasslands.

All put together, it presents a picture of a state that can allow energy development on a massive scale while also providing prudent environmental protections.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Guest

    You should write an article about the disappearing nature of Marie Strinden. She’ll often gavel in for the morning roll call, but be gone for the rest of the day. I don’t watch them every day, but it seems like she misses more votes than anyone else.

    • Rob

      Don’t worry, I’m keeping attendance for all of them. I’ll have something when the session is over.

  • ilikefood

    The fact that oil and gas counties have clean air is mostly irrelevant to the question of environmental impact. Oil and gas extraction destroy primarily water and land. The impact on air quality is much more limited. This does NOT in any way contradict the fact that extraction of fossil fuels damages the environment.

    • Rob

      But nobody is claiming that air quality is the only environmental impact. But it is an area where many complain, and those complaints just don’t seem to be relevant.

  • Kandi Mossett

    I hope if you read this article you don’t take it seriously. First of all, it is a fact that the air quality monitoring stations in the state are far and few between, are no where near point source pollution areas and are high on the bluffs where the wind blows and not down in the valleys where the smog and pollution settles so the air studies in ND are not accurate; anyone with an inclination to do some research can confirm this fact on their own. Second, the ND Department of Health-Water Quality Division came out with a study back in July of 2003, BEFORE the hydraulic fracturing industry even took off, informing the residents that every single bit of our 11,868 miles of rivers and 632,016 acres of lakes are in fact contaminated with Mercury and that we should not be eating fish over a certain size & weight, which includes an advisory chart for “allowable fish meals per month” when eating any fish caught in ND. In 2005, Clean The Air came out with studies highlighting the risks associated with the fossil fuel industry within the state of ND and at the time nearly 2,000 children were living with asthma. If you are so inclined to dig through the Centers for Disease Control records along with Indian Health Service records and local hospital records combined you will find that the number of people with asthma and lung cancer within the state of ND has significantly increased over the years. THAT IS NOT A SIGN OF CLEAN AIR. Factor in all of the pollution from the insane amount of flaring of natural gas which is byproduct of the oil industry in the state and things are even worse. It should also be noted that Lake Sakakawea is showing increased levels of dissolved solids and blue-green algae blooms like never before seen. Does the fossil fuel industry pollute? YES, hands down, no question. Perhaps the most ironic of all is that a study done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in July of 2008 showed that ND has the wind potential to power 1/3 of the entire nations energy needs. Just in case my background is pulled into question I’ll share that I have an undergraduate degree in Natural Resource and Park Management as well as a Masters in Environmental Management and do prefer to post and read stories that have an all around approach so thought it important to share a little bit of the other side of the story in a journalistic piece that is lacking in sharing ALL of the facts and information. I just wonder why stories like this are written because they are not helping any of us in the long run. As our land, water and air become more contaminated and polluted so do we. We cannot live without clean air, water and soil and here we are acting as if that does not matter because some of us may not be alive in 50 years. Even if I’m not on this earth for that long I have the foresight, common sense and morals to think of the future and at least try to do something about it now and for the future even if all that entails is sharing the entire truth…….

    • Bungholio

      This guy got an “Americans For Prosperity” award. Koch (Bros.) sucker Class A. He’s as reliable a source as the tobacco industry on lung cancer and smoking.

      • Rob

        If you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger, right?

  • Frank Jr Molley

    It’s so windy over there, the pollution get blown around. Check this fact out, I believe the lung association did not put this fact into their analysis: “A 1991 study conducted by Pacific Northwest Laboratory, An Assessment of the Available Windy Land Area in the United States, determined wind turbines in North Dakota could produce 1.2 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually—an amount that could supply more than 14,000 times the electricity consumption in the entire state, or 36% of the 1990 U.S. electricity consumption.”

  • Bungholio

    You silly man. It is as windy as a Cat. 1 hurricane most of the time because there are no trees and nothing to block the wind. And nobody lives in N. Dakota. Once it gets as populated as Texas, a pollution pit, things will change. And your Koch sucking award “Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence.” is nothing to be proud of. Writing a “cigs are good for you” set of blog posts probably will get you a Joe Camel or Marlboro Man award too. I’m not impressed…..

    • Rob

      Right. And calling people “koch suckers” is clearly a hallmark of someone who should be taken seriously.