By Brenda Jorgenson, White Earth farmer
The effects on these established Russian Olive trees began in the summer of 2011. I started questioning and documenting when my eyes perceptibly observed problems driving by the oil well pad. I suspected problems when the fumes from the oil well pad’s open pit and fracking chemicals wafted into our yard one-half mile away. It was not possible to stand as close to it as the trees were without my body wanting to shut off any inhalation. Even during the winter, while snowmobiling and wearing a full head-covered helmet, smells from the pit were strong.
While I can’t prove that the fumes caused all the problems, it is obvious that the 82 dead and dying hearty trees were damaged by this maintainer going in between the trees and the edge of the oil well pad.
It’s a place that I would not have attempted driving our 4-wheeler. There is proof in the scars on the trees that there was other mechanical damage to the trees, caused by other machinery, but I didn’t get pictures of that being done.
In May 2010, the oil well pad was simply built too close to the shelterbelt row of trees that runs the 1/2 mile length of our field. Because the roots were covered with so much dirt from the building of the oil well pad and the dike surrounding it, the trees did not, and could not, get needed oxygen. Their water source was not available on the entire west side. The winter snows filled the space between the pad and the trees so high, that photosynthesis could not take place the spring of 2011.
The fact is building the oil pad and the hydraulic fracturing tanks, plus all the truck traffic required to go around the outside of the frack tanks, caused extreme, excessive, unrelenting compaction to the soil all along the west side of these trees. Each one of these factors, by itself, would have been bad for the trees. These trees have been planted and replanted by hand some 30 years to do a job – to block winds for soil erosion, for snow fence, for aesthetics, and more.
Petro Hunt LLC, the owner of the oil well on our land, was made aware of the impact its equipment has done. A plant pathologist, a county agent, and a tree service businessman all presented documentation to Petro Hunt LLC, but the company has yet to make any attempts to correct the problem.
Really, though, how do you solve this? How do you replace 82 dead and dying established, hearty Russian Olive trees? Do you remove them? With what? Do you cut them down? Who pays for that project? Then what? Who takes responsibility, and if someone does, where do you find them? There doesn’t seem to be anyone in state or federal government or the oil company who will. There is such a maze of protection.
When the driver of the maintainer was forcing his machine along the entire length of the location, I could hear the cracking and breaking of branches over the noise of his machine. I waited for him to come out, with branches hanging on his equipment in many places, and I asked him, “What are you doing?!” He said, “I’m just doing my job, ma’am.”
I didn’t want him to lose his job, but I wanted to know who gave him orders and what those orders were.
There’s more – always is.