North Dakota is on the edge.
The Peace Garden State, while a cutting edge leader in agriculture and energy, is on the edge of changing wildlife habitat as documented losses continue to mount.
It’s on the edge habitat-wise – literally – for many wildlife species, including sage grouse, mule deer, and pronghorn. North Dakota is on the western habitat edge for all three species.
Historically, North Dakota never was a leader in populations of sage grouse, mule deer, and pronghorn. There simply wasn’t – and isn’t today – enough habitat each one needs to become abundant.
For some, living on the edge makes life interesting.
However, when it comes to living on the edge for wildlife and those managing wildlife, things become more challenging. Wildlife species living on the edge of their habitat range are more susceptible to changes effecting their habitat and behavior, explained North Dakota Game and Fish Department big game biologist Bruce Stillings.
For example, historically pronghorn could merely migrate out of North Dakota when winters became so severe with heavy snow and brutal cold, returning “home” when conditions allowed.
Yet, by nature, pronghorn aren’t fond of fences. They don’t typically like to jump them the way mule deer or white-tailed deer will. Fences pose problems for pronghorns and limit their ability to migrate when weather conditions dictate they move in order to survive.
Pronghorn also like to be able to see for great distances. That might offer one explanation as to why biologists didn’t find many in an area of southwestern North Dakota known as the Big Gumbo when flying July 2014 aerial pronghorn population surveys.
The Big Gumbo’s barren landscape historically offers up pretty darn good pronghorn habitat. A person does not have to go too far east of the Big Gumbo this year to find pronghorn. But not so in the Big Gumbo this year.
Blame the sweet clover.
This year ranks right up there as the “Mother of all clover blooms” with stands of yellow sweet clover 4- and 5-feet tall – or taller.
That’s not what pronghorn like.
So they left.
“Those animals just redistributed themselves,” Stillings described, and will likely move back when sweet clover isn’t so prolific.
As human development increases, regardless of the land use practice changing it, animals on the edge of their habitat range such as pronghorn will be more susceptible to changes. “They’re (pronghorn) critters that need lots of space and room to run,” Stilling described.
Increased development will continue to fragment those once wide-open spaces pronghorn require. In the long-term picture in the status of North Dakota’s pronghorn populations, it’s the impact of development – regardless of the type – that will determine how well pronghorn populations fare.
In the short-term, though, a glimmer of hope is appearing on the horizon. For the first time since 2009, a sliver of North Dakota will have a resident-only pronghorn season: 250 “any pronghorn” licenses. One license, lucky hunters can choose their method of take.
The open unit, 4A east of the Little Missouri River, is some of the state’s best remaining pronghorn habitat. “We saw numbers increase pretty nicely in our best habitat,” Stillings said, during 2014 aerial surveys. Stilling believes these pronghorn didn’t just wander in from Montana or South Dakota. “They’re North Dakota boys and girls,” he added.
Pronghorn populations reached their peak in 2005 when biologists estimate the state’s pronghorn numbers exceeded 15,000. However, after three consecutive “Mother of all winters”, populations steadily declined. The only time they were closer to rock bottom, comparing surveys dating back to 1958, was in 1979 and 1980 when fewer than 2,000 pronghorn graced the state.
At that time, pronghorn were again another victim to Mother Nature and winter.
After observing fewer than 4,000 pronghorn in July 2012 surveys, their numbers increased for the first time since 2005. In 2013, biologist observed more than 5,000 pronghorn throughout all survey areas.
But it wasn’t’ enough to justify a season.
This year another slight bump in population was enough to make Game and Fish Department officials more comfortable, opting for the extremely limited open area in what is the state’s best pronghorn habitat. The key factor in allowing the one open unit is that populations in Unit 4A were within the agency’s management objectives (1,500 to 2,500 pronghorn) for the unit, Stillings described, even though they were on the low end of the scale (1,656).
Biologists flew the entire standard pronghorn survey areas of the state. Overall, the population increased 16 percent within their primary range and 7 percent statewide. It wasn’t enough, though, to open other units. Biologists found an index of 63 bucks for every 100 does; 80 fawns for every 100 does in the area east of the Little Missouri River.
The American Bird Conservancy’s (ABC) heartburn over wind towers isn’t going away.
And if people would look at wind towers objectively and in the big picture, more people will realize the fallacy of a “green energy” that isn’t as green as what Americans are lead to believe.
Consider these facts:
The American Bird Conservancy first sued the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) in 2012 over the agency’s failure to disclose correspondence with the wind industry relating to potential impacts on bird and bat deaths in 10 states. “It’s ridiculous that Americans have to sue in order to find out what their government is saying to wind companies about our wildlife – a public trust,” ABC Wind Campaign coordinator Kelly Fuller said at the time.
OK, that was the first lawsuit.
Earlier this spring ABC announced it was suing DOI over its issuance of permits protecting wind farms from unintentional killing of bald and golden eagles.
In other words, the Department of Interior, specifically the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was comfy, cozy with the idea of whacking and beheading eagles, endangered species, migratory birds, and resident birds in the name of green energy but it was as illegal as heck if a bird flew into an electric utility line or somehow died in an oil field-related situation.
Seems a tad contradictory, doesn’t it?
Even though eagles aren’t on the endangered species list, they’re still a protected species. Utility companies pay high penalties if found guilty of intentionally killing eagles and other raptors. Rural electric cooperatives in the United States must make expensive construction design changes in areas where eagles migrate.
But if a wind farm in the heart of eagle country takes out more than a few birds, that’s OK?
What about endangered whooping cranes? After all, virtually every one of the approximately 200 whooping cranes in North American migrates over North Dakota twice a year.
Getting away from birds, if supporters of wind energy looked at the amount of surface acres required to produce the equivalent amount of megawatts of electricity produced by, say, Coal Creek Station near Underwood, they’d shudder at the amount of lost agricultural land and wildlife habitat.
A coal-based power plant runs 24/7. Coal Creek produces 1,100 megawatts (MW) annually. Most commercial wind towers don’t produce electricity unless wind speeds exceed 7.5 miles per hour (MPH).
For safety reasons they are designed to typically shut off when wind speeds reach 56 MPH.
A typical commercial wind tower under perfect conditions produces 1.5 MW.
The bottom line is a wind tower runs efficiently about 40 percent of the time in North Dakota; 20 percent in California.
North Dakota has reclamation standards for oil, gas, and coal.
There are no state reclamation standards for wind towers, which run about 120,000 hours over a typical 20-year lifespan.
So can someone please explain how green wind energy is so green after all?
Wind energy can play a role in energizing America but it comes at a significant expense to humans and wildlife alike – lost farmland, food production in a growing world population, and disappearing wildlife and habitat.
Quote of the Week: “Much more needs to be known about (golden eagles’) status before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can safely decide how many wind energy companies can kill with no net loss to the population.” – 2014 American Bird Conservancy lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior for protecting wind towers form unintentional eagle killings.
Bakken: It’s geology and technology that makes it productive.
Reprinted with permission, Bismarck Tribune
Unleashing the Bakken – it’s all about technology.
The combination of horizontal well drilling and hydraulic fracturing opened the world’s eyes to the bounty of oil that is the Bakken-Three Forks formations within the Williston Basin.
Whoa, not so fast.
Yes, it’s true technology opened the door to the Bakken and plays a major role in productivity. As drilling techniques and completion design become increasingly advanced, production rates continue escalating.
However, Colorado School of Mines doctoral candidate and Bakken Consortium member Cosima Theloy believes geology plays a large role in determining its productivity in many areas of the Bakken.
In fact, Theloy’s research points to geology as a larger contributor as to why the Bakken is so oil-rich. In addition, understanding its geology, coupled with increasingly advanced, state-of-the-art technology can help players in the oil industry determine the most cost-effective ways to coax oil from Bakken shale – the most prolific tight oil play currently known in the industry.
The makeup of much of the source rock in the United States portion of the Bakken is its highly organic-rich rock found in its Lower and Upper Bakken shale members. In between, lies the silty, dolomitic Middle Bakken Member.
If a person could view a cross-section of the Bakken, it would look similar to a salad bowl. Envision that salad bowl teaming with an array of delectable goodies, all mixed together in varying quantities found within varying areas within the salad.
That’s the geology that is the Bakken.
The Lodgepole Formation atop the Bakken Formation is dense carbonate rock, trapping oil within the Bakken. The Lodgepole Formation is the reason the Bakken Formation is oil-rich, Theloy explained. Without it, oil likely would have migrated to other formations where it could have been cheaper and easier to drill. The main escape route would have been north or northwest of the existing Bakken Formation, she added, vertically up into shallower reservoirs.
Its rocks contain precious oil but those rock formations vary in mineralogical composition, water and oil content, pressure, depth, and thickness. Within the salad bowl that is the Bakken lies two anticlines, upward folds of rock bent into an arch-like shape. The more significant Nesson Anticline runs north-south below what is the general vicinity around Williams and McKenzie counties. Oil migrated out of the east and west flanks of the Nesson, described Theloy. While that area still contains productive oil levels, it’s less productive than other areas within the Bakken.
The lesser Billings Anticline is found farther south within the Bakken Formation.
The Canadian portion of the Bakken Formation is shallower than it is in the United States. Oil migrated from the Nesson flanks within the U. S. portion of the Bakken, Theloy continued, because oil is more buoyant – less dense – than water, so higher percentages of water remain in the deeper areas around the flanks of the Nesson Anticline. As the Bakken Formation matured and pressure increased, the out-migration along the Nesson likely began, she explained.
There are two sharp “traps” keeping oil within the Bakken Formation, one along the Sanish-Parshall Field of central and southern Mountrail County and another along Montana’s Elm Coulee Field, the Bakken’s southwestern edge. “Something is trapping Parshall but it’s not known what at this time,” Theloy added.
There isn’t a trap to the Bakken’s northwestern edge in the Roughrider Field where there is increasingly more water than oil in the rocks. That’s why drilling in the Roughrider is driven more by technology, Theloy described. “You’ve got to put in more money to get more (oil) out.
Wells within the Roughrider Field tend to have more fracturing stages and lots of water is produced – along with lots of oil.
The Sanish-Parshall Field along the eastern edge of the Bakken is under high pressure and an up-dip in oil migration has occurred. Coupled with the sharp trap that is less likely to allow migration, it means that area is one of the Bakken’s “sweet spots”. Because of the favorable geology, the recovery of oil is cheaper within that area than areas such as Roughrider.
Bear Den is another productive sweet spot because of its high pressure, high maturity, and central position along the bottom of the Nesson Anticline, while the North Nesson area has only local entrapped accumulations.
In general, Theloy said the Bakken’s sweet spots, such as Sanish-Parshall or Elm Coulee, are influenced by migration and trapping. Sanish-Parshall is a mixture of migrating mature oil and its own in-situ generated oil.
The ratio of oil versus oil and water is important, N.D. Geological Survey geologist Stephan Nordeng described, for several reasons:
*It costs money to lift fluids from the formation to the surface.
*Depending on the oil, there are costs associated with separating oil from the water.
*The value of the produced fluid is dictated by how much oil it contains.
*Produced water must be transported and disposed.
Lower oil to water ratios means more water – and more expense – and less oil – value.
An array of geological factors could potentially influence oil productivity, Theloy described: Reservoir quality and thickness, oil and water saturation, the potential to generate hydrocarbons (oil and gas), maturity, overpressure, structure and lineaments – defining characteristics – natural fractures, oil migration, and traps, for example.
An array of technological factors also enter into well productivity, such as well type, its lateral length, type of completion design, well and fracture stage spacing, number of hydraulic fracturing stages, proppant volume, type, and its loading, fluid volume and type, injection rate, treatment pressure, and choke size.
The relationship of oil maturity and pore structure is important, Theloy explained, because oil and gas migrate from mature to immature areas through the pore network within the rocks, which is the reason Canada’s Bakken oil originated from the U.S. The primary migration is the expulsion of oil and gas from shale – the source rock – to reservoir rock, while secondary migration refers to migration of oil and gas within the reservoir rock.
The interplay of the source rock’s potential to generate oil and gas and its maturity creates immense overpressure, along with the creation of fracture permeability and the secondary porosity of the rocks. Combining overpressure and the migration of oil into up-dip traps creates large-scale accumulations like those found in the highly productive Sanish-Parshall and Elm Coulee fields.
The combination of hydraulically induced fractures, natural fractures and porosity helps move oil to the wellbore. Alone, though, these small natural fractures don’t define the Bakken’s sweet spots because they occur everywhere Bakken shales are mature, Theloy said.
It’s the combination of analyzing both technological resources and geological data within the varying regions of the salad bowl-like Bakken that can help unleash even more oil from the Bakken in the most cost-effective manner.
As part of her research, Theloy analyzed the role various types of proppants –materials pumped into a well during the hydraulic fracturing process keeping fractures open so oil and gas flows through fractures into the wellbore – played in productivity. Comparing the use of sand, ceramic, and a combination of two-third sand and one-third ceramic proppants used in the Bear Den, North Nesson, and South Nesson areas, she found the sand and ceramic mix yielded better production results than sand or ceramic alone. She admits she was somewhat surprised that ceramic alone wasn’t the most productive proppant given its superior qualities to sand.
In addition, Theloy found that the number of fractures doesn’t always equate to higher well productivity.
The bottom line is the Bakken Formation isn’t rich in oil just because of one or two factors coming together. It consists of many oil plays within its formations. Just as a salad’s flavors and culinary sensations can vary within a given salad bowl, the Bakken’s plays have different sets of ingredients contributing to variations in productivity.
For example, it’s the geology of the Sanish-Parshall and Elm Coulee fields that makes them so productive while Roughrider’s production is, in large part, because of the technology used to unleash its oil.
By understanding the geological nuances within each company’s drilling area, they can determine the best, most cost-effective method to obtain as many barrels of oil as possible over the life of a well.
Both geology and technology influence production, Theloy explained. Information gleaned from her work can help companies determine how much production could increase by augmenting the number of fracturing stages used, helping determine a well’s cost-effectiveness, by combining the use of engineering technology and understanding of geology.
An industry as large as North Dakota’s oil and gas industry produces voluminous amounts of byproduct waste. Dealing with it falls under a variety of jurisdictions, including the N.D. Department of Mineral Resources Oil and Gas Division and N.D. Department of Health (DoH).
Radioactive byproduct waste garnered extensive attention recently after discoveries of multiple instances of illegal and improper disposals, including filter socks. Used at saltwater injection wells, filter socks catch a large portion of sediment and scale within the water, enabling injection pumps to operate reliably, described Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) senior research manager Jay Almlie, Grand Forks. Sediment in the socks contain NORM, he continued, an acronym for Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material.
NORM is often misunderstood, Almlie explained. By definition, it occurs in many things throughout people’s day-to-day lives. It’s found in certain foods – bananas, coffee ground, and Brazil nuts, for example, along with granite countertops and some North Dakota soils, especially in the southwest. That’s one reason some North Dakota homes have high rates of radon, Almlie added. NORM is in many types of cat litter and phosphate fertilizers, as well.
NORM waste isn’t akin to nuclear waste, Almlie explained, because its level of radioactivity is far below thresholds deemed significant. Current North Dakota radioactive waste regulations limit in-state disposal to wastes containing less than 5 picocuries per gram. A picocurie is one-trillionth of a curie (Ci). In comparison, 1 gram of Co-60, a material used in medical radiotherapy, has approximately 1,100 Ci – 2 trillion times as much radioactivity as the filter socks found in Noonan.
However, that doesn’t downplay the significance of NORM, especially if improperly disposed and concentrated in things such as filter socks. Radioactive material can become concentrated in filter socks, pipe scale or tank sludge, Almlie described.
While low radiation levels aren’t inherently dangerous, the principle of ALARA –As Low As Reasonably Achievable - is prudent, he continued. “NORM waste must be handled and disposed of correctly to ensure no impact to public health,” he explained.
The Department of Health regulates any oil and gas byproduct materials not disposed of on well sites except drill cuttings, produced water, and drill mud when on-site, described Scott Radig, director of its waste management division. However, if drill cuttings, produced water, and drill mud go off-site, the Department of Health assumes regulatory authority. Other DoH-regulated off-site materials include scale, sludge, and filter socks. Otherwise, the Oil and Gas Division has regulatory authority.
All transporters of DoH-regulated materials must be licensed, Radig continued. Regulations also prohibit waste exceeding 5 picocuries per gram in North Dakota landfills.
The Department of Health will propose administrative rules looking at better defining materials that would be regulated as NORM, registration of generators, proper recordkeeping, containers, and disposal. However, at this point the agency isn’t looking at changing its current standards, he said.
The Department of Health is funding an independent study by Argonne National Laboratory, University of Chicago, to determine health, transportation, and public risks of allowing state landfills to accept higher levels.
Effective June 1, new Oil and Gas Division permit stipulations addressed saltwater in response to filter sock waste and increased disposal issues, Oil and Gas Division public information officer Alison Ritter said. “We continue to review and revise our rules,” she added, in response to the changing industry.
For example, a tremendous rise in treating plant facility requests lead to formal definitions and rules to provide consistency, she said. The number of treating plant facility requests increased because the agency revised rules in 2012 regarding the state’s reserve pit rules to allow only dry cuttings, therefore removing oil and water byproduct waste and requiring the need for additional treating plants.
Drilling waste is treated by removing the liquids at one of the treating plant facilities if it’s too wet to go directly to one of the special waste landfills, Radig explained.
A typical Bakken well could produce approximately 25 semi loads of dry cuttings, Ritter described, which could be buried on-site depending on the site’s environmental conditions. If not stored on-site, they’re dried and disposed of at special landfills within North Dakota.
The biggest issue with drill cuttings is the amount of salt they contain, Radig added.
While North Dakota landfills can’t accept materials such as filter socks, Ross Oakland’s facility near Glendive, Mont. does. The State of Montana permitted the Oaks Disposal Services landfill in February 2013, Oakland said. He can accept anything to do with drilling waste less than 30 picocuries per gram and 5 percent hydrocarbons. Oakland estimates about 60 to 65 percent of his business stems from North Dakota and includes filter socks, drill cuttings, pit liners, sludge, and drill pads.
Business has been good, he described. “The reason for it is because it was built to the highest environmental standards,” he added The landfill is permitted for a lifespan of about 14 years, although he has additional land within the permit. Oakland could seek an amendment enabling him to expand with an additional pit, if necessary.
When the current landfill is full, Oakland will cover it with an approved liner, 3 feet of overburden (soil), 12 to 18 inches of topsoil and seed it to grass. It will be monitored for 30 years once capped, Oakland added.
The EERC is working with the State of North Dakota and the oil industry through its Bakken Production Optimization Program, investigating ways to extract more oil from the Williston Basin with less environmental impact, Almlie described. One aspect of their efforts is waste management, he added, including addressing the issue of NORM through objective science.
The science has been done through EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and years of study, Ritter added. The science supports individual states has having jurisdiction to regulate exploration and production byproduct waste, she said.
N.D. Department of Health’s Scott Radig and Energy & Environmental Research Center’s (EERC) Jay Almlie encourage people to report any sighting of illegal dumpings to local law enforcement officials.
North Dakota has a reporting system in place so local authorities know exactly who to contact within the Department of Health, Almlie explained. “The illegal dumping will be handled immediately…do not inhale it and do not eat it and you will have no health threat,” he added.
Radig said it that in the Noonan filter sock situation, it appears the socks were dumped 2 or 3 years ago, if not longer, based on evidence at the scene.
Secure Energy Services handled the Noonan filter sock cleanup, described Secure Energy Service manager of technical services Robert Krumberger, Williston. It took a day for the contractor, licensed to deal with radioactive materials, to complete the fieldwork. A certificate of disposal from the Idaho facility was provided to the Department of Health.
Krumberger said the volume was twice as much as anticipated because socks were stacked on top of planks above a lower sump area, which contained additional filter socks.
Krumberger’s division of Secure Energy Services specializes in radioactive material cleanup and removal for the oil and gas industry, he described.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed hazardous waste management standards in 1978 for an array of large volume wastes, including those in the exploration and production of the oil and gas industry.
Congress accepted the standards and in 1988 the EPA made a regulatory determination that control of exploration and production waste as hazardous waste wasn’t warranted by the agency.
Instead, the regulation of such wastes was placed under state control. The exemption doesn’t preclude the waste from other federal regulations, nor does it mean those waste products couldn’t present a human health or environmental hazard if improperly managed.
Depending on the location of the wastes, these exploration and production wastes are regulated by either the N.D. Oil and Gas Division or N.D. Department of Health:
*Spent filters, filter media, and backwash, assuming the filter itself isn’t hazardous and its residue is from an exempt waste stream.
*Well completion, treatment, and stimulation fluids.
*Basic sediment, water, and other tank bottoms from storage facilities that hold product and exempt waste.
*Accumulated materials such as hydrocarbons, solids, sands, and emulsion from production separators, fluid treating vessels, and production impoundments.
*Pit sludges and contaminated bottoms from storage or disposal of exempt wastes.
*Gases from the production stream, such as hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide, and volatilized hydrocarbons.
*Material ejected from a producing well during blow-down.
*Pipe, scale, hydrocarbon solids, hydrates, and other deposits removed from piping and equipment before transportation.
*Pigging wastes from gathering lines.
*Wastes from subsurface gas storage and retrieval, except those exempted.
*Constituents removed from produced water before it’s injected or disposed.
*Liquid hydrocarbons removed from the production stream but not from refining.
*Waste crude oil from primary field operation.
*Light organics volatilized from exempt wastes in reserve pits, impoundments, or production equipment.
Brady works like the diligent K-9 detection dog he is while handler 2nd Lt. Julie Siems intently watches his body language for signs that he’s onto something.
The need for a K-9 detection unit typically spells bad news.
You know, things like drugs or bombs.
But that isn’t Brady’s task. He works in a different kind of K-9 unit, one that in its own way saves resources.
Brady isn’t a drug or bomb detection dog. Instead, Brady and Siems are with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources enforcement division, where the animal shelter rescue dog now works as a wildlife detection expert.
On this day, the Labrador retriever isn’t helping catch a poacher.
Instead, Minnesota is one of two states using K-9 detection dog units to help prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species (ANS). Brady is inspecting boats for invasive zebra mussels. They’re already in Minnesota, including the Ottertail River. While Brady assists with detection, he also help deter their spread.
Perhaps as important, he provides opportunities to reach out to people about the importance of preventing the spread of ANS. The goal isn’t writing tickets, explained Maj. Phil Meier, DNR enforcement division operations manager.
People love dogs, he added, and the K-9 unit provides opportunities to educate people as they visit about the dogs, their work, and ANS. One of Brady’s most important roles is opening doors of education.
Brady is nationally certified, passing rigid training and testing necessary to be the best at what he does because make no mistake, he can and will let Siems know if zebra mussels lurk somewhere.
It’s understandable to question what Brady has to do with North Dakota.
Well, he has everything to do with North Dakota.
Because if Brady can educate someone fishing in Minnesota about ANS – or, heaven forbid, actually detect a zebra mussel that glued itself onto the boat of an errant angler who didn’t pay attention to rules and regulations designed to prevent their spread – Brady might help save North Dakota’s lakes and waters.
Let’s face it, anglers fishing in Minnesota fish in North Dakota and other states.
And North Dakotans fish in Minnesota and other states. You know the old saying – “have fish, will travel”. Well, a twist to that is “have ANS, could travel.”
We’re a mobile society and so are invasive aquatic nuisance species.
Brady does his part to stop ANS and people should as well because ANS doesn’t just mess up a lake. It messes up intakes and water quality and that influences people’s pocketbooks and their daily lives.
ANS knows no boundaries and all it takes is one situation for ANS to rear its ugly head.
At this point, North Dakota doesn’t need Brady, thank goodness, even though Brady works year-around on other detection cases such as poaching.
It’s naive to think we won’t ever need to worry about ANS, however. Several species are already in North Dakota waters, including Eurasian watermilfoil, curly-leaf pondweed, and silver carp. Over in Brady’s home state, the Ottertail River feeds into the Red River and many Red River anglers fish other North Dakota waters.
Let’s keep the need for a K-9 detection dog like Brady searching out zebra mussels elsewhere by doing our part to keep ANS out of North Dakota.
Quote of the Week: “The ultimate goal is not to write a ticket.” – Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Maj. Phil Meier enforcement division on the importance of their K-9 detection dog, Brady, and public outreach promoting invasive aquatic species awareness.
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