After wondering yesterday how South Dakotans could help “storm the Bastille” on the Keystone XL Pipeline issue, it looks like the SD establishment is wondering how best to protect the energy industry’s Ancien Régime. Fulfilling its role as the semiofficial mouthpiece of SD’s Ancien Régime, the Argus Leader reports:
The Legislature soon will consider several measures to update the legal framework for oil and natural gas exploration, the latest step in a years-long push to expand South Dakota’s fledgling drilling industry…
The proposed legislation is patterned after regulations in North Dakota, where oil and gas production is soaring with the advent of new techniques such as directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Oil production there has risen more than 350 percent from a decade ago, according to data from the North Dakota Industrial Commission.
You might know hydraulic fracturing better as fracking. Which among other things has caused North Dakota cattle who have been exposed to fracking chemicals (see graphic above) to lose up to 80 lbs in a week, stop producing milk, and have their tails drop off, as Elizabeth Royte revealed at The Nation last month. In a state as dependent on agriculture and ranching as South Dakota, that seems like something to worry about. Our legislators and Department of Energy & Natural Resources (DENR) aren’t too concerned, however:
South Dakota officials say there is little worry of contaminating West River aquifers with frack fluids. Because the target shales are much deeper than domestic water supplies and protected by thick layers of intervening rock formations, they say, migration of the chemicals in to the water supply is unlikely.
Nor is the Argus Leader, which makes only passing mention of “concerns [that] mostly involve the possibility of drinking water contamination by fracking chemicals.” Governor Daugaard put the kibosh on a bill to support fracking during the 2012 legislature, but not on account of any opposition to the dangerous practice – such a bill was simply deemed “unnecessary,” considering that fracking would already be legal under state and federal law.
We need our legislators to look after the health of SD’s ranchers and families, not oil and gas interests looking to jump on the latest natural resource exploitation bandwagon. We need them to take advantage of SD’s huge renewable energy potential as the fifth-windiest state in the nation. But just as soon-to-be Secretary of State John Kerry likely won’t stand against TransCanada unless he can point to an upwelling of popular support, so our policymakers likely won’t do the right thing by South Dakota’s people and environment unless we make the political consequences of failing to do so eminently clear to them.