North Dakota

Pipeline Drama Casts Shadow Over Oil Industry

Sep 30, 2016
Amy Sisk / Inside Energy

The Obama Administration’s decision to temporarily halt construction on part of the 1,200-mile Dakota Access Pipeline has the oil industry on edge.

It was evident at the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s annual meeting, where the pipeline protests cast a shadow over an industry struggling amid low oil prices.

Amy Sisk

Opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline continues to grow beyond its North Dakota roots, with solidarity protests Tuesday in dozens of cities across the country and the world.

Andrew Cullen


Hundreds of people gathered on the lawn outside the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck Friday afternoon for what was supposed to be a protest over construction of the $3.7-billion Dakota Access pipeline.

From Stan Burling’s house at the end of Main Street, it’s a minute walk to downtown Hazen in central North Dakota.

The street sports a thriving business community in this town of 2,400 with amenities like a drug store, an insurance company, a Chevy car dealer.

Power plants surround Hazen, along with the coal mines that feed them.

“They support the local economy,” Burling said.

About half the residents work in the industry, or in a related job.

“They buy their vehicles here, groceries, support the local retail businesses,” he said.

Brian Hardzinski / KGOU


Donald Trump is wooing energy-state voters by promising a presidency that will champion coal, promote drilling and free frackers from federal regulations limiting oil and gas development.

If the Republican candidate’s energy platform sounds like it was written specifically for fossil fuel companies, that’s because an Oklahoma oil billionaire helped craft it.

Donald Trump delivered his first major speech on U.S. energy policy at a petroleum conference in the capital city of one the country’s most oil-rich states, Bismark, North Dakota.

Donald Trump laid out his thoughts on U.S. energy policy during a speech today at an oil industry conference in Bismarck, North Dakota.  

Trump spent much of his time bashing what he referred to as Hillary Clinton's "extremist agenda."


As for his agenda, Trump wants to bring back jobs in coal, oil, and gas by rolling back what he called an onslaught of federal regulations and also by producing more fossil fuels.


Road Tripping Along North Dakota's Oil Bust Alley

May 13, 2016

Dickinson, North Dakota is a very different place than it was two years ago, when this oilfield town of less than 30,000 people was one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Since then, the price of oil has fallen by more than 50 percent. Nowhere are signs of the slowdown more visible than along Dickinson’s Highway 22. I decided to take a road trip to see what had changed along oil bust alley.


It’s hard not to notice the influence of the oil and coal industries at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck. Inside the Continental Resources-sponsored Inspiration Gallery you can learn about coal reclamation, touch the Bakken shale, and guess which everyday products are made of petroleum. You can buy oil-themed chocolate at the gift store. Fossil fuel companies are some of the largest donors to this museum, which reopened in 2014 after a $52 million expansion and renovation.

Emily Guerin

Dustin Bergsing was a young, fit, bull rider from Montana. On a cold night in January 2012, he climbed to the catwalk on top of a 20 foot tall crude oil storage tank on an oil well pad in North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield. His job was to pop open the small hatch on top and drop a rope inside to measure the level of oil.

Just after midnight, he was found dead by a co-worker, slumped on the catwalk.

Dan Boyce

Bruce Friest asks himself if he would have done it again, knowing what he knows now – move from Minnesota to start a small trucking company during the peak of North Dakota’s oil boom.

“I don’t know if I would, I really don’t,” he said. “It was hard on me, it was hard on my kids, I was married and my marriage fell apart.”

A couple of years ago, his trucks were sub-contracted to haul oil by a larger trucking company. Then that company, Montana Midwest, went bankrupt, still owing Friest more than $200,000.

North Dakotans Reel From Low Oil And Ag Prices

Feb 5, 2016

On the surface, North Dakota doesn’t seem like a state full of risk-takers. It’s conservative, faith and family-oriented. Yet many people here are constantly making big bets on how much money they’re going to make next year, or whether they’re going to have a job in a  few months.


Everyone knows North Dakota is an oil state. But it’s the state’s coal industry that’s feeling the heat from the federal Clean Power Plan, which targets carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Under the final version of the plan, North Dakota will have to cut its emissions by 45 percent – more any other state except Montana.

Andrew Cullen

Some of the best places in America to see the starry night sky also happen to the best places to drill for oil. Think western North Dakota or West Texas, places far from any major cities. As oil development exploded in recent years, so has the amount of light pollution.

On a recent fall weekend, volunteer and astronomy-buff Jay Bjerke was manning a massive telescope at Theodore Roosevelt National Park's Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival.

Andrew Cullen

The high school football game is the center of life for small towns in much of rural America. And one town, in western North Dakota, is celebrating the return of that ritual for the first time in over a quarter century.

The Alexander Comets are a six-man football team (the school is still too small to host the 11-man game). On the day before their home opener, against a small town in eastern Montana, they're going over plays and their warm-up routine.

"I can’t wait for tomorrow to come," says wide receiver Jayy Morgan, "my head’s going to explode right now."

Flickr user mwwile via Creative Commons


In North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield, demand for electricity has skyrocketed – unlike much of the rest of country, where demand been flat since the recession. Dale Haugen has seen this first hand as general manager of the Mountrail Williams Electric Cooperative, which serves the heart of the Bakken. In the early 2000s, things were pretty grim at the coop's offices, and in Western North Dakota, in general.

Stephanie Joyce


The Casper-based company responsible for January’s Yellowstone River oil spill has proposed a new pipeline in North Dakota. Labor unions are opposing Bridger Pipeline’s project.

Evan Whiteford of the Laborers International Union of North America is the first to say he’s not opposed to pipelines.

“But we support the pipelines being done correctly and safely.”

Emily Guerin


Steve Fischer finished law school in Ohio in 2010 — one of the worst years to graduate in recent memory. Less than 70 percent of law school grads who passed the bar in Ohio that year landed a job as an attorney. He finally called an old friend and asked if he was hiring.

He was — in fact he was desperate for help. Soon, Fischer, “was making better money than most of my law school classmates.”

Flickr user Geof Wilson

The oil and gas industry pays a ton of money in severance taxes to energy producing states like Colorado, Wyoming and especially North Dakota. When oil prices were high, North Dakota took in about $10.5 million a day. But as prices have fallen, so has revenue. In the midst of this, North Dakota lawmakers have passed a bill to stabilize and lower the state’s oil and gas tax rate.


Very few people in the state capitol of Bismarck support the state's current tax system. Representative Al Carlson, the House Majority Leader, put it this way:

North Dakota Joins Wyoming Fracking Lawsuit

Mar 31, 2015
Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons

North Dakota is joining Wyoming’s lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management over its new fracking for rules for federal and tribal lands.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says one of the major problems with the new rules is that they could dramatically lengthen the 10 months it now takes to get an oil and gas permit from the federal government.

Stephanie Joyce

Radioactive waste is a common by-product of oil and gas drilling. On Friday, workers in North Dakota were cleaning up a pile of illegally dumped waste filters.  

Up to 100 filter socks were found in Williston, a North Dakota oil and gas boomtown in the western part of the state. Filter socks are the nets that strain out the sludge, which is sometimes radioactive, that is a by-product of oil production.  Dale Patrick from North Dakota’s Department of Public Health said that although the dumping was illegal, there was little threat to the public. 

INSIDE ENERGY: Meet The Men Who Study Man Camps

Feb 6, 2015
Andrew Cullen

“Man camps,” or temporary worker housing, are a defining characteristic of an oil boom. Development happens so fast, there’s never enough time to build adequate permanent housing. When oil prices come crashing down, the man camps empty out.

Wikimedia Commons

The budgets of oil states are going to be hard hit by the recent slide in oil prices. Measured in dollars, Texas is the clear loser, but in terms of actual on-the-ground impacts, it isn't quite so simple. In the country’s number two oil-producing state, North Dakota, falling prices have barely caused a ripple, while in Alaska (ranked fourth), lawmakers are calling it a “fiscal apocalypse.” In Wyoming (ranked eighth), reaction has been subdued, but that may not last.

Emily Guerin

The pipeline that burst earlier this month and spewed oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana made headlines. But just across the border in North Dakota another pipeline was quietly leaking a potentially more disastrous substance: wastewater from oil wells.

Emily Carpeaux for Inside Energy

We’ve been hearing a lot about crashing oil prices lately. Crude oil is selling for $46 barrel today compared to over $90 a year ago. The price drop is great news for consumers and terrible for oil companies. But not all oil companies -- or oil fields -- are created equal. When oil prices drop, size and location matters.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Working in the oil and gas industry is dangerous. Inside Energy reported earlier this year that these jobs are in fact six times more dangerous than the average American job. A new training center opening up in central Wyoming in 2015 is designed to address those risks by training students as young as 16 on the heavy equipment used in oil and gas production.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Working in the oil and gas industry is dangerous. As Inside Energy reported in its "Dark Side Of The Boom" series, these jobs are actually six times more dangerous than the average American job. But a new Department of Labor-sponsored training program could help fight that trend.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

The oil and gas boom in states like Wyoming, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas has not only brought jobs and prosperity but also a dangerous spike in traffic and accidents. These states have reacted with a variety of fixes, but not one has been able to prepare in advance for the traffic boom. That is partly because a large slice of transportation funding in most states comes from the oil and gas industry itself. Jim Willox is a local official in Wyoming’s Converse County, where much of the oil and gas boom is taking place:

The energy industry can have an impact on politics in Wyoming, but other states as well. In North Dakota political spending is way up, with 17 million spent this year, more than double what was spent in 2010. Inside Energy’s Emily Guerin reports on why the stakes have suddenly gotten so high.

North Dakota has always been a friendly, easy place to vote. It is the only state in the country without voter registration, and precincts are small enough that poll volunteers often recognize people who come through the door.

INSIDE ENERGY: Millions Of Tons Oil And Gas Waste: Hazardous Or Not?

Oct 3, 2014
David Martin Davies

The United States is on the verge of becoming the world’s top producer of oil – that’s according to the International Energy Agency.  But the oil boom is also leading to a boom in toxic oil field waste that can end up in open pit disposal sites.  There are increasing concerns over the dangers these disposal sites pose for air quality.


This week, Wyoming Public Radio aired a series of stories on workplace fatalities in the oil and gas industry. The series looked North Dakota’s high oil and gas fatality rate, Wyoming’s response to its own rising death toll, and whether there are lessons to be learned from the commercial fishing industry in Alaska, which has cut fatalities in half in the last decade. Emily Guerin of Prairie Public Radio and Stephanie Joyce of Wyoming Public Radio share some of their takeaways after reporting the series.