Oil drilling has sparked a frenzied prosperity in Jeff Keller’s formerly quiet corner of western North Dakota in recent years, bringing an infusion of jobs and reviving moribund local businesses.
But Keller, a natural resource manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, has seen a more ominous effect of the boom, too: Oil companies are spilling and dumping drilling waste onto the region’s land and into its waterways with increasing regularity.
Hydraulic fracturing 2014 the controversial process behind the spread of natural gas drilling 2014 is enabling oil companies to reach previously inaccessible reserves in North Dakota, triggering a turnaround not only in the state’s fortunes, but also in domestic energy production. North Dakota now ranks second behind only Texas in oil output nationwide.
The downside is waste 2014 lots of it. Companies produce millions of gallons of salty, chemical-infused wastewater, known as brine, as part of drilling and fracking each well. Drillers are supposed to inject this material thousands of feet underground into disposal wells, but some of it isn’t making it that far.
According to data obtained by ProPublica, oil companies in North Dakota reported more than 1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids in 2011, about as many as in the previous two years combined. Many more illicit releases went unreported, state regulators acknowledge, when companies dumped truckloads of toxic fluid along the road or drained waste pits illegally.
State officials say most of the releases are small. But in several cases, spills turned out to be far larger than initially thought, totaling millions of gallons. Releases of brine, which is often laced with carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals, have wiped out aquatic life in streams and wetlands and sterilized farmland. The effects on land can last for years, or even decades.
Compounding such problems, state regulators have often been unable 2014 or unwilling 2014 to compel energy companies to clean up their mess, our reporting showed.
Under North Dakota regulations, the agencies that oversee drilling and water safety can sanction companies that dump or spill waste, but they seldom do: They have issued fewer than 50 disciplinary actions for all types of drilling violations, including spills, over the past three years.
Keller has filed several complaints with the state during this time span after observing trucks dumping wastewater and spotting evidence of a spill in a field near his home. He was rebuffed or ignored every time, he said.
“There’s no enforcement,” said Keller, 50, an avid outdoorsman who has spent his career managing Lake Sakakawea, a reservoir created by damming the Missouri River. “None.”
State officials say they rely on companies to clean up spills voluntarily, and that in most cases, they do. Mark Bohrer, who oversees spill reports for the Department of Mineral Resources, the agency that regulates drilling, said the number of spills is acceptable given the pace of drilling and that he sees little risk of long-term damage.
Kris Roberts, who responds to spills for the Health Department, which protects state waters, agreed, but acknowledged that the state does not have the manpower to prevent or respond to illegal dumping.
“It’s happening often enough that we see it as a significant problem,” he said. “What’s the solution? Catching them. What’s the problem? Catching them.”
Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, a lobbying group, said the industry is doing what it can to minimize spills and their impacts.
“You’re going to have spills when you have more activity,” he said. “I would think North Dakotans would say the industry is doing a good job.”
In response to rising environmental concerns related to drilling waste, North Dakota’s legislature passed a handful of new regulations this year, including a rule that bars storing wastewater in open pits.
Still, advocates for landowners say they have seen little will, at either the state or federal level, to impose limits that could slow the pace of drilling.
The Obama administration is facilitating drilling projects on federal land in western North Dakota by expediting environmental reviews. North Dakota’s Gov. Jack Dalrymple has urged energy companies to see his administration as a “faithful and long-term partner.”
“North Dakota’s political leadership is still in the mold where a lot of our oil and gas policy reflects a strong desire to have another oil boom,” said Mark Trechock, who headed the Dakota Resource Council, a landowner group that has pushed for stronger oversight, until his retirement this year. “Well, we got it now.”…
June 11, 2012
Many commentators have correctly observed that the reelection of Governor Scott Walker is a grave blow to unions, especially public sector unions. They went all in to defeat Walker and, despite the great outpouring of protest last year against his collective bargaining bill, he won by a greater margin this time than he did in 2010.
But something else was exemplified by the Wisconsin results. It’s not that unions can’t win a defensive fight. Ohio proved otherwise—a resounding 23 percent rollback of an anti-collective bargaining measure for public employees similar to that enacted in Wisconsin. (Alec MacGillis hasdiscussed some of the reasons why Ohio’s results differed from those in Wisconsin.) And it’s not as if unions don’t still have significant political strength. Barack Obama and other Democrats need the union household vote (roughly 25 percent of the electorate) to vote Democratic at its customary 60 to 65 percent in several key Midwestern states (and Nevada, too) in order to win.
No, the real underlying story is that unions are losing their institutional legitimacy in modern America. The problem isn’t that most people hate unions. The problem for unions is that most people don’t care about them, or think about them, at all.
SURE, CONSERVATIVE activists and plutocrats do think about unions. They understand that unions put more money and power into workers’ hands, at the expense of management and owners—and more money into the hands of Democratic politicians, at the expense of Republicans. Now that the Soviet Union has fallen, there is no more consistent trope of conservative ideology stretching back over a century than a nearly pathological hatred of unions.
What’s different now is that the cord connecting union organizing and activism to broad currents of the American public has been frayed nearly to the breaking point. Unions always had powerful enemies, but they also had a broad institutional legitimacy grounded in their ubiquitous presence within economics, politics, and even culture. (Who can imagine today a hit Broadway show like The Pajama Game of the 1950s, or a popular film like Norma Rae of the 1970s?) When union membership peaked in the mid 1950s at about 35 percent, it was disproportionately weighted to the Northeast, the Midwest, and California. But that meant that in those regions—the most populous in the country—either a worker was in a union himself/herself, had a family member in a union, or, at least, had a friend or neighbor in a union. People, for better or worse, knew what unionsdid and understood them to be an almost ordinary part of the workings of democratic capitalism.
Most important, they knew, for better or worse, that unions had power. Sixty years ago, the UAW or the Mineworkers or the Steelworkers, not only deeply affected crucial sectors of an industrial economy, they also demanded respect from broader society—demands made manifest in the “political strikes” they organized, whether legally or not, to protest the issues of the day. Millions supported these strikes, millions despised them—but nobody could ignore them. The charismatic leaders of these unions, men like Walter Reuther and John L. Lewis, were household names to most Americans. Jimmy Hoffa was thought by many to be a “thug”, but his union, the Teamsters, could stop interstate commercial transportation in the country. Such was the power that John Sweeney, the former president of the AFL-CIO, sought to evoke when he assumed office in the mid 1990s on a platform of union reform and growth. Sweeney was not a great public speaker, but he did use one great line that always got boisterous cheers before audiences of union members (including me). He would speak about the enemies of the labor movement and say something like, “Well, they’re calling me a ‘big union boss.’ All I can say is: it’s a lot better to be a big union boss than a small union boss.”
Today, by contrast, with several notable exceptions—the housekeeping workers in Las Vegas’s casinos, the UPS drivers, the hotel workers of New York City, pockets of militancy among the Latino immigrant community in Los Angeles—the sources of union strength are diminished. Membership is much smaller and declining, workers aren’t aggressively seeking to join unions. And the most famous union president today is probably the recently retired Andy Stern of SEIU. Stern has had a 60 Minutes segment dedicated to him, and has been featured in major magazine profiles; he was a frequent visitor to the Obama White House; he is smart and dynamic. But how many Americans today know who Stern is? Five percent? That many? The fact is, the SEIU, as resourceful and influential as it is, can’t make a serious claim to power over the American economy—janitors and nurse’s aides today can’t bring the economy to a halt, as autoworkers, steel workers, and truckers could claim to be able to do in the 1950s…
June 11, 2012
Thad held up his right hand and asked “See this?” He showed me gnarled and maimed fingers. Thad told me that while he was flying his plane into Turkey, the Turkish air force forced him to land, having gotten wind that he was running drugs. They jailed him, and in an attempt to extract a confession, his jailers broke his fingers. He didn’t confess.
Thad bribed his way out of jail. Eventually he came to the drug treatment center where I was working, to get help with his drinking problem. (Thad and other patient names are pseudonyms.) After discussing addiction as involving compulsive behavior, we concluded that Thad was suffering from alcoholism. Knowing he would be better off not drinking, Thad committed himself to abstinence. He told me that he didn’t need to go to Alcoholics Anonymous for support, explaining that if he could resist caving in from torture he could certainly resist whatever discomfort he would experience from not drinking. Thad thought that being able to follow through with his resolve was simply a matter of having the ability to resist succumbing to how bad it would feel to not drink.
When Thad came in for his next appointment he looked pained, shocked and confused. He told me that in spite of his decision to remain abstinent, he drank. It happened at the airport while he was waiting for his friend to arrive. Thad couldn’t understand how he would do such a thing, given his ability to handle pain when sticking to a resolution. I explained how a compulsive condition such as alcoholism can change how one evaluates what to do, so that someone who previously decided not to drink can come to temporarily think it’s okay to do so. After I explained how this kind of change of thought could produce a motive for drinking, Thad saw how his ability to endure suffering couldn’t be counted on to guarantee abstinence.
Addicts as Willing Participants
Addiction busts up what matters: the condition is capable of creating urges and motivations which bring about highly significant losses to a person’s well-being in spite of the person’s standing preference not to live like that. It’s possible that an addict is able, at times, to control the urge to use; but the addict also might not be able to prevent an urge to use from spontaneously arising and motivating. Other conditions, for instance bipolar or obsessive-compulsive disorders, can also create self-regulatory failures, so that episodes of self-destructive behavior are willingly engaged in which contravene the person’s general preference not to behave like that. Furthermore an appearance, at times, of control – intentionally cutting down, or temporarily stopping – can mislead the addict and others into believing that the addiction really is under control. The ability of the addict to believe that he/she is addicted also typically becomes compromised.
Well, why not just hold that addicts abandon their resolve to be abstinent simply because they change their minds, and not through some sort of compulsion? It’s common to change one’s mind when faced with temptation. Sometimes the choice to go ahead with the temptation is the result of a cost-benefit evaluation – in other words, it seems worthwhile to do it. At other times a person might gratify their desire or urge without entertaining any qualms or even thoughts about it. So although an addict’s habitual behavior might be atypical, rather than seeing it as a result of a compulsion they’re not strong enough to fight against, why not see their addictive behavior as something done in a willing manner, because the person feels like doing it, and/or they regard it as worth doing?
This willingness model (my terminology) has its roots in the analysis of embracing temptation which is found in Plato’s dialogue Protagoras. Contemporary philosophers such as Herbert Fingarette in Heavy Drinking: The Myth Of Alcoholism As A Disease, and recently, Piers Benn in ‘Can Addicts Help It?’ in Philosophy Now Issue 80, have also argued in support of such a model. I believe that understanding addiction requires appreciating elements of that model, as well as conceiving of addiction as a disorder involving a compulsive process which undermines the ability to regulate one’s behavior.
In the Protagoras, Socrates discusses the nature of, and challenges to, self-mastery (ie self-control). When faced with a choice, Socrates tells us, human nature means we want to do what we think is best. So, he argues, if we believe we know what the good (the best) thing to do is, and it is accessible to us, we will do the good. However, says Socrates, things which tempt us can have the power to alter our perception or understanding of their value, making them deceptively appear to be what is best. Consequently, we choose the temptation as the best thing to do. The experience of going along with temptation is not, Socrates argues, one in which the person protests or fights against its unreasonableness while being dragged along into gratifying it. For Socrates, ‘yielding to temptation’ is not being unwillingly overpowered, but is the experience of being a willing participant choosing what is at that moment wrongly thought to be best. This is also the essence of the willingness model of addictive behavior.
A good way to understand it is by looking at how Homer depicts Odysseus’s mental state after hearing the Sirens. In Homer’s Odyssey, the Sirens’ singing was said to be so beautiful that it would enchant sailors, who would then pilot their ships towards the deadly rocks from which the Sirens sang. Odysseus orders his men to tie him to the ship’s mast so that he can listen to their song while his men row past them with wax blocking their ears. Through the Sirens’ enchantment, Odysseus becomes hooked and orders his men to sail toward them, in spite of having been told of the doom it will bring. Luckily, they ignore the order (probably because they can’t hear it). In the Socratic/Platonic analysis of what we think of as ‘yielding to temptation’, temptation plays the same role as enchantment in the story, in the sense that temptation has a power to deceive someone into willingly choosing it as best thing to do.
Aristotle thought that by asserting that when we gratify our desires for what tempts we are still doing what we think best, Socrates was denying the existence of akrasia – ‘weakness of will’, or a failure of self-restraint. The denial of both compulsivity and of weakness of will in explaining addiction has resulted in a willingness model commonly referred to as the moral model of addiction. On this view, what the addict does can be explained in terms of Socrates’ willingness model and an addict’s immoral character: ie, they want to do it, and care more about satisfying their addiction than the consequences of doing so. The addict’s moral deficits reside in their motivations, as illustrated in the accusation: “If you cared more about peoples’ safety than drinking, you wouldn’t drink and drive.” Here, the individual is judged to be morally deficient for not prioritizing peoples’ safety over their own desire to drink.
Support for the moral and other willingness models has been garnered from the fact that some addicts have stopped or limited their drug use when they have had good enough reason for doing so – that is, when they regard doing so as important. For example, it is not unusual for women to stop smoking while pregnant in order to protect the fetus, but to resume smoking afterwards. Also, addicts will often limit when they engage in their addiction, for instance, not at work, or not around certain people. Addicts might also demonstrate an ability to limit their drug use, e.g., their drinking, just to prove that they can successfully control their habit. Some addicts may decide that their addiction no longer works for them, and stop using completely. Furthermore, it is often claimed, that even if there are genetic or biological factors causing an addict to have strong urges, control over them still depend on what the addict thinks it is worthwhile to do, even when the urges are intense. Urges “incline but do not necessitate,” to use an expression of Leibniz’s…