North Dakotans love the outdoors, no matter the season. The arrival of spring finds folks heading to the water to fish and as the weather warms, to boat and swim. So it’s understandable that plans for an oil pad near a Lake Sakakawea boat ramp has some people worried.
Slawson Exploration Co. wants to place a multi-well oil pad 1,000 feet from the Van Hook Resort boat ramp parking lot, part of a popular camping and recreation complex near New Town. The company plans to drill 11 wells and direct them 3 miles laterally beneath the lake into the Bakken shale. If the project is approved it will be the company’s biggest multi-well pad to date. The storage tanks, flare pit and heater treater will be set back at least another half mile and a pipeline will take the raw oil and brine to the production location.
The approval process has been underway for about four years and if Slawson can get the OK from the Bureau of Land Management, it hopes to start drilling next season. BLM Dickinson field manager Loren Wickstrom told reporter Lauren Donovan that he extended the public comment period another 30 days until July 5 because of the project's proximity to the lake and visual impacts.
The company’s original plan had the oil pad within 300 feet of the boat ramp parking lot, but another 700 feet were added. One Van Hook cabin owner, Terry Fleck, who’s also chairman of Friends of Lake Sakakawea, said "It's unconscionable” that the pad would be located so close to the ramp. Dawn Ritts, who manages the Van Hook Resort, said having a pad within 1,000 feet isn’t the best situation, but acceptable.
While the location of the oil pad may be acceptable, is it the best Slawson can do? This isn’t the first situation of its kind prompted by oil drilling. The company has the rights to the oil and has been taking the proper steps to get approval. At the same time it wants to drill in an area that provides recreational enjoyment to numerous North Dakotans. It won’t be the same environment with an oil rig in sight and the noise that comes with its operation. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of daily life won’t be the same.
Slawson and the BLM need to explore the options for putting more distance between the pad and the boat ramp area. Anything that can reduce the impact on the area should be done.
Slawson has a good reputation, but has had some incidents and fines. It is one of nine companies that created the Sakakawea Area Spill Response, with equipment staged for water spill cleanups. "As an industry, we know the importance of the lake. That's in the core of our operations area," Eric Sundberg, company environmental and regulatory manager, told Donovan.
If they know the importance of the lake then they know it’s essential that everything should be done to protect the lake and its environment.