In an unusual spin for the oil industry, one representative from the North Dakota Petroleum Council said at a presentation on Tuesday, November 27, that pipelines are the biggest problem for the state's wildlife.
That is, the fact that there are not enough of them.
The Associated Press reports that NDPC president Ron Ness spoke in front of a group of industry representatives and environmental advocates, pointing to the dramatic rise in oil being moved by truck and train around the state.
Booming production from the Bakken shale formation, largely centered in North Dakota, has made the state the second-largest oil producer in the U.S. However, the Bakken's out of the way location has put significant strain on the region's infrastructure, with extremely limited pipeline capacity coming from North Dakota.
This has forced producers to load more than half of their output onto trucks and trains. The Associated Press reports that rail transport has allowed some greater flexibility in where producers are sending their crude oil, with some making its way to refineries in the West Coast.
But trains and trucks are a much more expensive form of transit that also entails a variety of risks that pipelines are largely able to avoid.
Among those risks is the potential for damage to the environment through a spill, but the constant flow of oil trucks actually poses a more persistent threat to animals and their habitats than just the occasional accident. Extensive networks of roads are required to connect the various wells, and regular traffic can both scare away some animals and unavoidable kill others.
To help avoid this, Ness suggests encouraging greater use of pipelines and easing the process for constructing them, which can often be held up permitting problems. Other suggestions included clustering wells more tightly together to limit the amount of habitat that is ultimately destroyed by development.
However, some critics point out that oil development in North Dakota has reached a point where these steps might not prove sufficient.
"You can't put that kind of industry in the entire western part of the state and not have an impact," The Wildlife Society spokesman Michael McEnroe told the AP. "People think that wildlife will just go over the hill. Except that over the hill in western North Dakota, there is another oil well."