After oil companies and state executives in North Dakota hid the news from the public that nearly 300 oil spills occured between 2011 and 2013, radioactive toxic sludge is brimming back up to the surface, bubbling forth from the ground and mixing with fresh water across the state.
In late 2013, the shale oil industry in North Dakota received national attention when a train carrying explosive "Bakken" oil derailed and exploded near the town of Cassleton on December 30. Eighteen rail cars attached to the train also spilled 400,000 gallons of crude oil--one of the biggest spills ever recorded in the United States.
The train accident, along with the hundreds of other spillages over the last two years, was symptomatic of the hydraulic fracturing fever that has gripped the North Dakota since 2006, when a petroleum geologist discovered a massive oil field producing from the Bakken rock formation deep beneath the western part of the state.
North Dakota is now the number two oil producer in the country (behind Texas), and it is producing about a million barrels of oil a day. Environmentalists say the speed of the boom has not only encouraged sloppy practices that lead to spills, but has also resulted in a proliferation of illegal chemical dumping in landfills and fracking wells.
"What goes up must come down. There's going to be chemicals rising up from these wells," said Scott Skokos, a field organizer for the Dakota Resource Council, and environmentally-minded landowner collective, said to Unedited Media.
Radiation testing has confirmed that the sludge secreting up from fracking wells is a mix of corrosive chemicals used in hydaulic fracking and a substance dubbed TENORM (Technologically enhanced normally occuring radioactive material).
Skekos explained that TENORM is produced when NORM (normally occuring radioactive material) is brought to the surface through fracking. Legally, TENORM must be disposed of in properly designated areas because of the health hazard it poses to humans, but in order to avoid the costs of properly dumping the material (the nearest TENORM waste site is in Colorado), oil companies in North Dakota are spewing the toxic waste wherever is most convenient from them.
Those on the ground say that the industry is running wild with little oversight from regulators, and residents are mostly left in the dark about any spillages or illegal dumpings that occur.
The Guardian noted that state regulators are not required by law to tell the public about oil spills, as is the case in most oil-producing states. With the rapid rate of expansion in fracking, however, many residents believe they deserve to know exactly when and where oil-related accidents are occuring.
"The public really should know about these [incidents]," said Don Morrison of the Dakota Resource Council to The Guardian. "If there is a spill, sometimes a landowner may not even know about it. And if they do, people think it's an isolated incident that's only happening to them."